US, Israel call Iran ‘greatest challenge’ in volatile Middle East

American and Israeli officials huddled Thursday in Washington as part of annual strategic talks.

After the session, which was led by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, the two nations issued a joint statement directed squarely at Iran.

“While today’s strategic dialogue covered many subjects, it is clear that Iran is the greatest challenge we face today in the Middle East,” the nations stated.

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“Iran’s continued noncompliance with its international obligations related to its nuclear program, as well as its continued support for terrorist organizations, are of grave concern to our two countries and the entire international community,” they stated. “Continued efforts by the international community are critical to bringing about change in Iranian behavior and preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.”

Earlier Thursday, Obama administration officials reiterated their sanctions-based approach for halting Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle slammed the administration for moving too slowly, saying more needs to be done or Tehran could be nuclear-armed within one year.

“There is a … sense of urgency in our country, but there doesn’t seem to be an administration policy that is commensurate with that urgency,” said Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.).

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) added that “the clock is ticking,” referring to an International Atomic Energy Agency report released last month that concluded Tehran is closer than ever to fielding a nuclear weapon. That finding started a drumbeat of calls from lawmakers and GOP presidential candidates to take steps beyond economic sanctions.