Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, has stated his country's right to defend itself against the possible threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and said the world cannot wait much longer to take action against Tehran.
Netanyahu was addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, in Washington on Monday, after earlier holding talks with US President Barack Obama.
"Israel will always reserve the right to defend itself," Netanyahu said in an uncompromising speech.
"We are determined to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons. We leave all options on the table and containment is not an option. The Jewish state will not allow those who seek Israel's destruction the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear-armed Iran must be stopped."
"We've waited for diplomacy to work, we've waited for sanctions to work [against Iran]; none of us can afford to wait much longer"
- Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli PM
In an apparent retort to Obama's address to AIPAC a day earlier in which the US president called on Israel to allow time for US-led sanctions against Iran to take effect, Netanyahu said: "We've waited for diplomacy to work, we've waited for sanctions to work; none of us can afford to wait much longer."
Netanyahu's visit to Washington comes amid speculation, in the press and in public statements by Israeli officials, that Israel is planning a strike against nuclear facilities in Iran which it says aims to develop a nuclear device.
Netanyahu told AIPAC that he would not talk about what Israel would or would not do, but reiterated that Israel would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.
"As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation," he said.
The Obama administration has not said whether it would support Israeli action against Iran, and in recent weeks has said it sees no evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon.
James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, testified before Congress in January that he believed Iran had not yet decided whether or not to build a bomb.
In a statement issued prior to talks with Netanyahu, Obama largely echoed points he made on Sunday night in his address to AIPAC.
Obama said the US "reserved all options" regarding Iran's nuclear programme, but wanted more time to pursue diplomacy.
"I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically," he said. "We understand the costs of military action."
International negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme have been stalled for more than a year, but the Iranian government announced last month that it would be willing to resume talks without any preconditions.
Israeli officials want Iran to completely suspend its uranium enrichment programme before the West resumes negotiations. However, the White House has apparently rejected that demand, which Iran would almost certainly refuse.
AIPAC's annual conference holds particular importance in an election year in the US, with the group's members expected to fan out across Capitol Hill to pressure legislators in the lead-up to November's vote.
Iran's nuclear programme has also become a key foreign policy issue in the US, where all of the Republican presidential candidates have been sharply critical of Obama's approach to Tehran.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and frontrunner in the Republican primary race, told an audience shortly after Obama's speech that "if Barack Obama is re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon".
Three of the Republican candidates - Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum - are scheduled to address the AIPAC conference on Tuesday.
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|William T. Hathaway|