President Barack Obama has made his strongest statement yet that he will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb, saying the development would trigger an arms race that would spread throughout the Middle East.
And in an interview with The Atlantic
, Obama stressed that he will stand by Israel even as he tries to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to strike the Tehran regime unilaterally.
Obama insisted that when he warned Iran against acquiring the bomb he wasn’t bluffing and made it clear that a military strike is an option
“The Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff. I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are,” he told interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg.
“Both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.
“You're talking about the most volatile region in the world,” the president said. “It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe.
“If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I won't name the countries, but there are probably four or five countries in the Middle East who say, ‘We are going to start a program, and we will have nuclear weapons.’ And at that point, the prospect for miscalculation in a region that has that many tensions and fissures is profound. You essentially then duplicate the challenges of India and Pakistan fivefold or tenfold.”
Obama gave the 45-minute interview as he prepares to address AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, on Sunday and before he meets Netanyahu the following day.
His comments made it clear that he and Netanyahu have a complicated relationship and that he is closer to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. When explaining how seriously his administration takes its friendship with Israel, he said. “I think that Ehud Barak understands it. I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu, hopefully, will when he sees me next week, will understand it.”
But Obama said he cannot understand why Republicans have been successful in painting him as anti-Israel. “Every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept," Obama said. “Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they've had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?"
Obama has regularly been attacked for being weak on Iran. In January, former Lt. Col. Oliver North told Newsmax that Obama's policies toward the Islamic Republic made him look like “Jimmy Carter on steroids." Sen. John McCain has called his policy of trying the diplomatic route as “a failure,” while another veteran, Rep. Allen West, said in January the president “is not conveying any strength whatsoever.”
But in recent days, the White House has been ramping up the anti-Tehran rhetoric and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has criticized Pakistan for its decision to build a pipeline at a time when Washington is trying to increase pressure on Tehran.
The president insisted that the program of sanctions against Tehran had worked to isolate the country, and efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to evaluate its military program have been successful. But if all else fails there will be “a military component,” he said.
And he warned against any action that may turn world opinion in favor of the Tehran regime.
“At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally [Syria] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim, and deflect attention from what has to be the core issue, which is their potential pursuit of nuclear weapons?”
But Obama made it clear that he still sees reason to hope that the mullahs will turn away from nuclear weapons and he defended remarks made by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said the regime in Iran is “rational.”
“It's entirely legitimate to say that this is a regime that does not share our worldview or our values,” he said, but he insisted that Iran’s leaders “care about the regime’s survival.”
He continued: "They're sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they're experiencing. They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them. They are able to make decisions based on trying to avoid bad outcomes from their perspective.
"So if they're presented with options that lead to either a lot of pain from their perspective, or potentially a better path, then there's no guarantee that they can't make a better decision.
“What we've heard directly from them over the last couple of weeks is that nuclear weapons are sinful and un-Islamic. And those are formal speeches from the supreme leader and their foreign minister.”
When asked directly about a military strike, Obama said, “Look, if people want to say about me that I have a profound preference for peace over war, that every time I order young men and women into a combat theater and then see the consequences on some of them, if they're lucky enough to come back, that this weighs on me – I make no apologies for that … These aren't video games that we're playing here.
“Now, having said that, I think it's fair to say that the last three years, I've shown myself pretty clearly willing, when I believe it is in the core national interest of the United States, to direct military actions, even when they entail enormous risks,” he added, specifically mentioning the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
He said Americans believe he is willing to take action. “They may have complaints about high unemployment still, and that the recovery needs to move faster, but you don't hear a lot of them arguing somehow that I hesitate to make decisions as commander in chief when necessary.”
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