U.S. President Barack Obama has warned his Chinese counterpart that the United States would not be able to keep Israel from attacking Iranian nuclear installations for much longer, senior officials in Jerusalem told Haaretz.
They said Obama warned President Hu Jintao during the American's visit to Beijing a month ago as part of the U.S. attempt to convince the Chinese to support strict sanctions on Tehran if it does not accept Western proposals for its nuclear program.
The Israeli officials, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the United States had informed Israel on Obama's meetings in Beijing on Iran. They said Obama made it clear to Hu that at some point the United States would no longer be able to prevent Israel from acting as it saw fit in response to the perceived Iranian threat.
After the Beijing summit, the U.S. administration thought the Chinese had understood the message; Beijing agreed to join the condemnation of Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency only a week after Obama's visit. But in the past two weeks the Chinese have maintained their hard stance regarding the West's wishes to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The Israeli officials say the Americans now understand that the Chinese agreed to join the condemnation announcement only because Obama made a personal request to Hu, not as part of a policy change.
The Chinese have even refused a Saudi-American initiative designed to end Chinese dependence on Iranian oil, which would allow China to agree to the sanctions, said the Israeli officials.
Saudi Arabia, which is also very worried about the Iranian nuclear program and keen to advance international steps against Iran, offered to supply the Chinese the same quantity of oil the Iranians now provide, and at much cheaper prices. But China rejected the deal.
Since Obama's visit, the Chinese have refused to join any measures to impose sanctions. The Israeli officials say the Chinese have been giving unclear answers and have not been responding to the claims by Western nations. Beijing has been making do with statements such as "the time has not yet arrived for sanctions."
China's actions are particularly problematic because China will take over the presidency of the UN Security Council in January. Western diplomats say China would have no choice but to join in sanctions if Russia agrees to support them, but China could delay discussions and postpone any decision until February, when France becomes council president.
The Israeli officials say Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is showing a greater willingness for sanctions on Iran, despite hesitations by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.