President Obama said in an extensive interview that he would consider military action to disrupt Iran's nuclear program, but stressed that sanctions need to first be given time to work -- an argument he'll take to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a private meeting this Monday.
The president discussed the Iranian threat and his upcoming meeting with Netanyahu during an interview with The Atlantic magazine published Friday.
According to the article, Obama plans to try talking Netanyahu out of any plan to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities in the near future. "Our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily," Obama said.
The president said the only way to achieve a permanent end to the program is for Iran to make the decision to dismantle it.
Still, he said, the "military component" is the final option the U.S. would consider, calling an Iranian nuclear weapon "unacceptable."
"I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff," Obama said.
The president said he won't advertise any U.S. plans for Iran. At the same time, Obama has consistently refused to renounce a military option for U.S. strategists.
Obama also warned that a premature strike might inadvertently help Iran: "At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally (Syria) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?"
Obama rejected as unreasonable a more limited policy of containment in confronting Iran's nuclear efforts.
"You're talking about the most volatile region in the world," he said. "It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe."
He also pointed to economic turmoil in Iran and reiterated that sanctions against the Iranian regime are starting to bite.
In a series of recent meetings with Israeli leaders, administration officials are believed to have sought to persuade the Jewish state to give sanctions more time to work and to hold off on any military strike. Speaking Thursday to reporters, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama believes there is still "time and space" for those measure to persuade the Iranian regime to take a different course.
Israeli officials acknowledge the pain in Iran but have publicly expressed doubt those measures will ever cause Iran's clerical leaders to change course.
Obama wasn't so sure. "They're sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they're experiencing," he told the Atlantic. "They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them."
Before his meeting with Netanyahu. Obama plans to speak Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group that Netanyahu will also address.
Though Obama emphatically portrays himself as one of Israel's best friends, touting military and other ties, his relationship with Netanyahu has at times been frosty. The two have sparred publicly over Jewish settlements on the West Bank, with Netanyahu pushing back on Washington's efforts to move forward on peace talks with the Palestinians.
The Iran issue has risen to the forefront of his foreign policy. At a fundraiser in New York on Thursday night, an audience member shouted out, urging the president to avoid a war with Iran.
"Nobody has announced a war," Obama cautioned. "You're jumping the gun a little bit."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.