U.S. President Barack Obama might have seemingly failed to secure a promise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from attacking Iran, but he probably bought some time to let diplomacy and sanctions take effect, U.S. analysts said.
The two leaders met at a time of heightened global concern over Iran's nuclear program. Western powers have accused Iran of developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran claims its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
One of the key issues discussed by Obama and Netanyahu was how much time remains for non-military approaches to curb Iran's alleged nuke bid.
The meeting exposed differences between the two sides on how to deal with the predicament. Obama told reporters there was "still a window for diplomacy," while Netanyahu emphasized his country had the "sovereign right" to be "the master of its own fate."
But at Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Netanyahu changed his tone, telling senators it was still undecided whether Israel would strike nuclear sites in Iran, a sign he had softened his previous stance of pressing for an immediate military strike.
SHARED GOAL: PREVENTING NUCLEAR-ARMED IRAN
Despite the differences on how to deal with Iran, the United States and Israel, two close allies, were in the same boat on preventing Tehran from becoming a nuclear-armed power, analysts said.
"Washington and Jerusalem share a goal that Iran should not be allowed to become a nuclear weapons state," Raymond Tanter, a visiting professor of political science at Georgetown University, told Xinhua in an interview.
Both countries understood crippling economic sanctions were necessary to raise the cost for Iran to continue its nuclear programs, and they would halt negotiations if Tehran was simply using talks to buy time, said Tanter, a member of the U.S. National Security Council under the Reagan administration.
John Cababrese, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said: "Monday's summit provided an opportunity for Obama and Netanyahu to have a frank face-to-face discussion. Presumably, this enabled them to make clear to each other their respective positions -- reducing the possibility of misperceptions and miscalculations."
Since Obama took office, the White House has been losing patience on Iran due to Tehran's insistence on pursuing its controversial nuclear program.
"The Obama Administration initially placed emphasis on diplomatic engagement, but has become increasingly frustrated with Iran," Cababrese told Xinhua.
Washington adopted a "dual track" approach that sought to keep open the possibility of diplomatic engagement while increasing economic pressure on Iran. As a result, U.S. and Israeli policies had come into closer alignment, he said.
The United States and Israel have different views of the timing and cost benefits of launching preventive strikes on Iran, said Anthony Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a top political think tank here.
In the past two years, the United States had made it clear at nearly every level -- the president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, and chairman of the joint chiefs -- that it opposed an Israeli strike at this time and wanted to pursue diplomacy and sanctions, he said.
Speaking to influential pro-Israeli lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday, Obama said "all options are on the table" to deal with Iranian nuclear issue, but he stressed he preferred to solve it through diplomatic channels.
Israel, on the other hand, thinks military action is needed before it is too late.
"Unlike their Israeli counterparts, U.S. officials have always been quick to temper these remarks by insisting that diplomacy has neither been exhausted nor abandoned," Cababrese said.
As a global power, the United States has the incentive to pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis, something Israel, a regional player, lacks.
Moreover, a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel, but only presents a proliferation risk to the United States.
In this context, Washington focuses on preventing Iran from "acquiring a nuclear weapon," while Jerusalem stresses stopping Iran from obtaining a "nuclear weapons capability," Cababrese said.
Tanter agreed, saying the United States could afford to wait longer before acting militarily because it had a greater ability to destroy Iran's facilities.
But Israel, with a weaker military capacity, felt it needed to act before Iran made its nuclear facilities inaccessible.
OBAMA BOUGHT MORE TIME?
However, analysts said the U.S.-Israeli differences were more superficial than substantial.
Cordesman said the meeting of the two presidents would have given Israel confidence that the United States saw halting the Iranian effort as critical and would keep the military option open, while the United States was more certain Israel might wait for the sanctions to kick in.
Netanyahu's trip to Washington could be considered successful, as Obama reconfirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel's security as "rock solid," in return for Israel postponing a strike on Iran, he said.
Tanter said the likelihood of military action was "lower after the meeting," and Obama had bought more time for negotiations and sanctions to work.
Obama perhaps had persuaded Israel to agree to let the negotiation process play out for at least six months, Tanter said, adding the U.S. decision to respond favorably to an Iranian letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton seemed to indicate there might soon be a de-escalation of "war talk" and a resumption of talks to negotiate a way out of the current impasse.
Meanwhile, Tanter warned the chance of military action would rise precipitately if the talks with Iran failed to occur or broke down.
Despite the differences at Monday's summit, which some believed could hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship in the near future, Cordesman said he preferred to view the summit in a political context.
"This was a political meeting in a political year. It had value as political symbolism, but little impact on either nation's underlying strategy or priorities," he said.