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Iran, Israel Not Getting Easier For Obama

The re-election of Iran's hard-line president and a tough speech by Israel's hawkish prime minister signaled an increasingly difficult road ahead for President Obama's hopes for ending Tehran's nuclear threat and brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

A setback on either foreign policy front would have been unwelcome in the Obama White House, but difficulties on both issues - which are deeply entangled - were likely to slow progress on the president's ambition of changing the landscape across the Middle East.

Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday that Mr. Obama's effort to engage Tehran after a nearly three-decade estrangement would continue, nevertheless. Mr. Obama, shifting course from his predecessor, has said he wants to talk to the theocratic regime in Tehran, with the central goal of stopping it from producing a nuclear weapon. He has set a year-end deadline for a positive response to his overture.

Biden told NBC television on Sunday that the administration was still examining whether Friday's vote in Iran accurately reflected a response to Mr. Obama's desire for engagement.

"That's the question," Biden said. "Is this the result of the Iranian people's wishes? The hope is that the Iranian people, all their votes have been counted, they've been counted fairly. But look, we just don't know enough."

He said the U.S. had no choice right now but to accept the outcome as announced, but, Biden said, "I have doubts" about its fairness.

The results showed hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad crushing reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, although his supporters charged that the outcome was rigged.

The streets of the Iranian capital erupted Sunday as thousands of Mousavi supporters expressed their frustration over what they are convinced was a rigged election. CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that she and her cameraman had to hide behind the closed grate of a shop front in Tehran, as police were chasing and beating anyone they could catch.

In Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in an unusually open dispute with Mr. Obama over the path to peace with the Palestinians, the Israeli leader gave a major speech that was bound to have found a disappointed White House audience.

Mr. Obama is pressing the hard-line Netanyahu, who first served as the Israeli leader during President Bill Clinton's administration in the 1990s, to freeze settlement activity on land that the Palestinians claim for a future state. Netanyahu also had been refusing to commit to the concept of a two-state solution to the decades-long confrontation.

He gave ground on a possible Palestinian state in the Sunday speech but set preconditions that likely close off progress before talks can begin.

He said any future Palestinian state would have to be disarmed and that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the "state of the Jewish people."

Neither precondition was likely to find acceptance across the breadth of the Palestinian political spectrum, which, like the land that would become a state, is divided between Gaza - run by the Islamic militant Hamas - and the West Bank, controlled by the moderate Fatah organization.

In the Palestinians' view, Netanyahu's speech wasn't a startling reversal - it was a non-starter, reported CBS News correspondent Richard Roth.

An Israeli official told CBS News that Netanyahu previewed the speech in a phone call to Biden, and had therefore been expecting a positive reaction from Washington. The negative reaction from Palestinians won't have been a surprise to Israelis, either.

The White House sought to put a positive spin on Netanyahu's remarks. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Mr. Obama "believes this solution can and must ensure both Israel's security and the fulfillment of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for a viable state, and he welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu's endorsement of that goal."

Hamas is strongly backed by Iran and, like Ahmadinejad, calls for the destruction of Israel.

Netanyahu and his backers see Israel as threatened on three fronts, all of them arising in Tehran. The Islamic regime's perceived drive to build a nuclear bomb is viewed by Netanyahu as an existential threat to Israel. Lesser but more immediate dangers are seen to lie with Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran's other proxy organization in the region.

The two groups have routinely conducted harassing rocket attacks and incursions on Israel from Gaza in the south and Lebanon to the north, respectively.

Counterbalancing the weekend's discouraging news, however, was Hezbollah's major and unforeseen setback in Lebanese elections last week. There also is growing concern in the larger Arab Middle East about Iran's nuclear program.

While both the Arabs and Iranians are Muslims, the Arabs are predominantly Sunni, while the Iranians are nearly all Shiite. Beyond that, Iranians are ethnic Persians and have been historically at odds with the Arabs.

While Ahmadinejad's victory in Iran and the tone of Netanyahu's speech in Jerusalem were not unexpected, a different outcome could have spurred quicker and more vigorous movement toward a broader peace in the region - a key foreign policy goal for Mr. Obama.

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