Obama says a weakened Israel would be failure of his presidency

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama has said that a weakened Israel would be a "fundamental failure of my presidency," affirming solidarity with his country's long-time ally despite recent differences over the Iran nuclear deal.

Mr Obama said while Israel has reason to be concerned about foe Iran, he defended the framework agreement on Iran's nuclear programme that negotiators drew up last week.

Mr Obama made the comments to The New York Times in a 45-minute video interview on Saturday that was posted on Sunday.

"I would consider it a failure on my part, a fundamental failure of my presidency, if on my watch or as a consequence of work that I've done, Israel was rendered more vulnerable," Mr Obama said.

He said he would consider it "not just a strategic failure, I think that would a moral failure", adding that no disagreements between Israel and the United States can break their bond.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly denounced the agreement between Teheran and world powers as a bad deal, arguing it will leave Iran with a large nuclear infrastructure.

The two leaders have also clashed over the Middle East peace process, with Israel opposing the creation of a Palestinian state, while the White House is seeking a "two state" solution to the conflict.

"Even in the midst of the disagreements that I have had with Prime Minister Netanyahu both on Iran as well as on the Palestinian issue, I have been consistent saying that our defence of Israel is unshakable," Mr Obama said.

The US President also defended the Iran nuclear deal, which paves the way for Teheran to curtail its nuclear activity in exchange for relief from punishing economic sanctions.

"There is no formula, there is no option, to prevent Iran from getting a new weapon that will be more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we put forward, and that's demonstrable," he told the newspaper.

But Mr Obama said Israel was "right to be concerned" about Iran, and sent a strong message to enemies of Israel.

"What we will be doing as we enter into this deal is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anyone messes with Israel, America will be there," he said.

On the Iranian negotiations, Mr Obama said that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is "a pretty tough read" and "deeply suspicious of the West."

But Mr Obama added: "He does realise that the sanctions regime we put together was weakening Iran over the long term, and that if in fact he wanted to see Iran enter into the community of nations, there would have to be changes."