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I don't bluff, Obama warns Iran

Barack Obama has delivered his most explicit threat yet that the United States will attack Iran if that is what it takes to prevent the Islamic republic from developing a nuclear bomb.

The US president also warned Israelis that they would only make a bad situation worse if they moved pre-emptively against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The double-barrelled warning, in an interview with The Atlantic magazine, comes before Mr Obama's high-stakes meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and a speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israeli lobby.

Mr Obama said an Israeli strike would stir sympathy for Iran in a region where it has few allies. But he made clearer than before that Iran could face attack from the United States.

"I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognise that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say," Mr Obama told the magazine. "I don't bluff."

He said Iran and Israel both understood that "a military component" was among a mix of many options for dealing with Iran, along with sanctions and diplomacy, making plain a threat to attack that had previously been more subtly implied.

The warning reveals how the threat that Iran could pose to Israel has eclipsed every other issue in the close, but often contentious, US relationship with Israel, and raised the political stakes for Mr Obama.

Iran's disputed nuclear ambitions dwarf the unfinished business of peace with the Palestinians and Mr Obama's sometimes testy relationship with Mr Netanyahu.

The White House dispute with Israel is about the risks versus the benefits of a military strike in the near term, not whether one is ever appropriate.

The issue is infused with domestic politics in both the United States and Israel, and Mr Obama is at pains to show American Jewish voters that he is not being harder on Israel than on Iran.

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