In arguably his strongest words to date, US President Barack Obama told The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on Sunday that he is serious about all options being “on the table” regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including a military approach. However, he also said that there is time for diplomacy and sanctions to convince Iran to change course.
The comments come amid increasing international concern about military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program and escalating rhetoric between Tehran and the West. Obama continued that escalation to a degree, although he also argued war statements are counterproductive.
In his speech, which was posted on the White House website, Obama said, “When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.”
He noted that commitment “includes all elements of American power,” ranging from diplomacy and sanctions to “a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”
Recent comments from the top US military official regarding Iran’s status as a “rational” state implied the US might be open to just containing a nuclear Iran, similar to the balance between the US and fellow nuclear power Russia during the Cold War. In Sunday’s speech, Obama dismissed the idea that he is willing to live with Iranian nukes.
“Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” said Obama. “And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”
While discussing the American response to Iran, Obama also endorsed Israel’s ability to defend itself and said he understands the “profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders” of Israel’s leaders.
“We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically,” said Obama about Iran’s nuclear program. “Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.”
That determination to pursue diplomacy at this stage played a key role in Obama’s speech as well. “I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy—backed by pressure—to succeed,” said the American leader, noting that the US and Israel both currently assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon.
He further said that both Israel and the US have an “interest” in resolving the Iranian nuclear dispute diplomatically, especially as he argued that the only way to truly end the crisis is with an Iranian decision to halt their nuclear weapons efforts.
He also emphasized that he considers a war to be a last resort. “As part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it. And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.”
While feeling the need to openly discuss a military option on Iran, Obama said that overall “there is too much loose talk of war.” He considered such frank discussion to be counterproductive, as Middle East tensions have increased the price of oil and thereby helped the Iranian oil-driven economy.
“Now is not the time for bluster. Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built. Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly; carry a big stick,” said Obama. “And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was positive about Obama’s speech overall and said he “very much appreciated” Obama’s comments about “all options” being on the table in dealing with Iran. Netanyahu and Obama are set to meet in person on Monday, with the Iranian issue likely to be a key discussion point.
Said Netanyahu in a statement regarding Obama’s speech, “I also appreciated the fact that he made clear that when it comes to a nuclear armed Iran, containment is simply not an option, and equally in my judgment, perhaps most important of all, I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 4, 2012)