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Special Report

US-Israeli relations on the line?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 5, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Even as we will continue on the diplomatic front, we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions. I reserve all options. And my policy here is not gonna be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: That Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat, and that when it comes to Israel's security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right, to make its own decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting at the White House with President Obama today. This coming after President Obama addressed an American Jewish Interest Group, AIPAC, over the week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: But as you examine my commitment, you don't just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds, because over the last three years as president of the United States I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture, at every fork in the road, we have been there for Israel every single time.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: So let's bring in our panel from Washington, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Steve, your thoughts on this meeting and the speech over the weekend?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, pretty big meeting. It doesn't really get any more dramatic and important than this, probably President Obama's most significant bilateral meeting of his presidency.

The White House went in, I think, trying to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu of two things, that we will know if Iran races forward with its breakout capacity and really tries to assemble and construct a nuclear weapon, and that we will go, that we will actually take action if this, in fact, happens.

I think this is a tough sell. For one thing, the United States doesn't have a great track record on weapons of mass destruction. And our window into the Iranian program, if we have one at all, doesn't seem to be that great.

And secondly, he is basically asking Netanyahu to trust the United States, to trust the president that if in fact we do have this information that we'll go. It's asking for a huge risk. I think it's unlikely that the prime minister will take him up on it.

BAIER: A.B.?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, it's -- I think between that between the speech at AIPAC and between the comments that Prime Minister Netanyahu made today and President Obama made today, this was sort of the public declaration of what they have been saying in private. I think the Israelis are going to go their own way. I think they've made it clear and I think that President Obama made it clear that we will give them backup in the case of a counterattack.

But they still disagree. I mean they disagree on the regime's intentions and they disagree on the timing. I mean I think the Israelis really believe that the time is running out. And President Obama continues to ask for more time. And unless he can assure them privately that he can do enough covertly, they're gonna go on their own schedule.

BAIER: Charles, your sense about this meeting at the oval office today. The last meeting these two leaders had, we could read a lot into the demeanor, the tone, and the backstory. Any thoughts about the meeting and the words said?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Judging from the demeanor and the tone and from the inadequacy of the president's words the day before, I would imagine the meeting is extremely tense. Netanyahu keeps stressing that he as prime minister is responsible for the safety of the whole nation and he is not going to defer when Israel is facing an enemy sworn to its destruction.

When Obama spoke, we saw earlier that sound bite about we were gonna pursue diplomacy, you have to ask yourself, what diplomacy? There is no diplomacy with Iran on their nukes. Obama tried this, he admitted he was rebuffed. Right now the Iranians are indicating they might be open to reopening negotiations, clearly as a way to stall until window of opportunity is shut on the Israelis. Obama says yes, we are going to try sanctions. We know sanctions are having an economic effect. But when all of his intelligence agency chiefs were before Congress last month they were asked have any of the sanctions influenced the nuclear program? The answer was a flat no.

So what is left? A promise on the military option. And Obama says trust me. And the Israelis have to trust their entire existence on that, which is why, I think the real question in the discussion between Obama and Netanyahu is going to be can the Israelis strike? They will strike on their own I think unless they are given a hardcore assurance from the White House that Obama would strike if diplomacy doesn't succeed. And I'm not sure Obama is going to offer that. In the absence of that, I think the Israelis will declare and use the president's words, Israel has the sovereign right to do what it needs to defend itself.

(CROSSTALK)

BAIER: Steve, there is a sense -- excuse me, Charles. Steve, there is a sense, growing sense that the Israelis are getting to that point and that this meeting was kind of the cap on the iceberg that this is sort of happening.

HAYES: Yeah. I think that sense is right. We have seen in this sort of volley of rhetoric over the past two months the Israelis making the case, I think, both in public and then more strenuously in private about the need to do this. And as Charles says, the fact that Iran is an existential threat, and we have seen from the administration this counterargument in public that I think in some ways has been very damaging. You had Dempsey, the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, suggesting this is a bad idea in an interview three weeks ago. You have had a constant repetition from administration figures down-talking this, in a sense telegraphing what they are trying to do.

I just think if you were serious about the conundrum that Israel is in, if you really wanted to help them solve the problem, and if you did in fact believe that diplomacy was still an option at this very late date you would be making precisely the opposite points. And we just haven't heard that that much from this administration.

BAIER: A.B., I have 20 seconds here. All of the candidates on the campaign trail have weighed in on this issue. How do you think this plays politically on the Republican side briefly?

STODDARD: Well, it's great for the Republicans to beat up on President Obama about what he has not done to contain Iran and what he has not done to stop progress on them obtaining a nuclear weapon. But obviously, should there be a conflict, that will be a harder debate for Republicans to take to the president.

BAIER: Panel, thank you very much. Next up, a panel of local political experts talks about what to expect here in Ohio and throughout Super Tuesday.

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