WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said it was still possible to resolve Iran’s suspected bid for a nuclear weapon through diplomacy, but added that a military option was still on the table and that containment was not an option.
“I firmly believe that an opportunity remains for diplomacy, backed by pressure, to succeed,” Obama told the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference on Sunday in Washington.
“The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program,” he said. “Now the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists.”
The comments did not earn applause; there have been reports that Israel and AIPAC are pressing Obama to make the military option more explicit.
Ratcheting up the military threat later in the speech, Obama earned a standing ovation after saying that his policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Most of the applause lines that Obama sought — and received — throughout his address had to do with supporting Israel. But the one that was most meaningful, and that earned the coveted approval of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had to do with Israel helping itself.
“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,” the U.S. leader said. “I have said that 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. That includes all elements of American power; a political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.
“Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Netanyahu, responding to the speech, said in a statement from Canada that “I appreciate that Obama reiterated his position not to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table on this issue. I also appreciated the fact that he made it clear that when it comes to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, containment is not an option. Perhaps most of all, I appreciate the statement that Israel must be able to defend herself against any threat.”
Netanyahu and Obama are scheduled to meet Monday in Washington; Netanyahu will address the AIPAC conference that day.
In praising Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, AJC Executive Director David Harris said in a statement that the president’s address gives “strong hope that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu will see eye to eye, built on a foundation of mutual trust, on the best path to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear-weapons capability. All eyes will be on the White House for [Monday's] meeting.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement by its executive director, Matthew Brooks, that Obama’s “strong rhetoric does not match his administration’s weak record on support of Israel.”