President Obama issued his most direct threat yet of U.S. military actions against Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon, but in a message to Israel’s leader ahead of White House talks he also cautioned against a pre-emptive Israeli strike.
“As president of the United States, I don’t bluff,” Obama warned Iran on Friday, three days before he will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, Reuters reports.
The President moved to delay Israel from attacking Iran itself by stressing: “We’ve got Israel’s back”.
“I think 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,” said Obama.
“I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are.”
Mr Obama singled out that the current US approach included diplomatic pressure, political isolation and “unprecedented and crippling” economic sanctions, writes The Telegraph.
But he also emphasized a potential “military component”, saying: “When I say we are not taking any option off the table we mean it. We are going to continue to apply pressure until Iran takes a different course.”
Obama claimed that the risk that Iranian will pass to terrorist groups was “profound”, and that surrounding states would feel forced to follow suit.
“It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons,” he told reporters. “So now you have the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world, one that is rife with unstable governments and sectarian tensions.”
Professor Daniel Byman, the director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies and a Middle East expert, explained that Mr Obama was “ratcheting up his rhetoric” to “convince Israel that they are not on their own with this”.
“His remarks show real concern in the administration that Israel is going to strike Iran in defiance of American pressure,” he said. “He has always had this threat on the table, but has never emphasised it quite so strongly.
“He is trying to convince Israel that he has not decided that the US will not attack Iran, ironically in the hope of putting off an Israeli strike and giving sanctions a little more time.”
Obama also claimed that economic sanctions were placing Tehran in “a world of hurt”. Earlier this week Jay Carney, his spokesman, announced that Washington wanted to allow the sanctions to impact Tehran’s decision-making.
“We believe that there is time and space to continue to pursue that approach,” said Mr Carney, “even as we refuse and make clear that we do not take any option off the table in our effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
The President that the US and Israel were of the shared view that “Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt”.
Obama stressed that his message to the Israeli people was: “We’ve got Israel’s back”. He added: “I actually think the relationship is very functional.”