UPDATE 1-U.S. aide tells Israel sanctions on Iran need time

Tue Feb 21, 2012 8:50pm GMT

* White House says diplomacy can resolve nuclear dispute

* Top U.S. military officer sees Iran strike as premature

* Donilion latest high-level U.S. visitor to Israel (Adds quotes, details, background)

WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - A top aide to U.S. President Barack Obama told Israel's leaders this weekend that there is still time for diplomacy to keep Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon, the White House said on Tuesday, amid growing concerns that Israel might resort to a preemptive strike.

National security adviser Tom Donilon told Israeli officials that Washington shares their concern about Iran's nuclear push but also stressed the need to let sanctions work, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"We certainly understand the heightened concern that Israel has given its geographic location and other circumstances that are involved here for Israel," Carney told reporters, discussing Donilon's visit and the White House view on Iran's ambitions.

"Having said that, we believe that the approach this administration has taken has resulted in a level of consensus within the international community regarding Iranian behavior that has never been attained before that's resulted in a level of punitive sanctions that have never been attained before ... and that that has had an impact," he said. "We believe that there is time and space to attempt to resolve this peacefully."

Iran says its nuclear program is meant to develop energy, not weapons.

But its recent shift of uranium enrichment to a mountain bunker and refusal to negotiate guarantees that the program is peaceful have raised security fears - particularly in Israel - and also stoked concerns about Gulf oil supplies.   Continued...

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