As Republicans on the campaign trail ramped up their support for Israel in a possible military strike on Iran, President Obama used a speech before a pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday to warn against the “loose talk of war” that could serve to speed Iran toward a nuclear weapon.
Mr. Obama declared that he would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran and would act — with military force, if necessary — to prevent that from happening, reports The New York Times.
“I firmly believe that an opportunity remains for diplomacy – backed by pressure – to succeed,” Obama told the crowd of 13,000 people in a cavernous ballroom.
“I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues, the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war,” he added.
Over the last few weeks such talk has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.
“For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.” And as he often does, Mr. Obama quoted President Theodore Roosevelt: “Speak softly. Carry a big stick.”
Mr. Obama is to meet with Mr. Netanyahu on Monday at the White House, where the prime minister is expected to continue to pressure the United States to take a harder line on Iran. Specifically, Mr. Netanyahu wants Mr. Obama to be more explicit about the circumstances under which the United States would carry out a strike.
Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu comes amid U.S. fears that Israel might opt to strike Iran on its own if it is not convinced of U.S. resolve to stop Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
According to Reuters, such speculation has gained traction as Obama has faced election-year criticism from Republicans who question the strength of his support for Israel and accuse him of not taking a tough enough approach toward Iran.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said at a campaign stop near Atlanta, “If Barack Obama gets re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon, and the world will change if that’s the case.” Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Romney and Rick Santorum are also scheduled to address Aipac this week.
Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Obama’s sanctions strategy “hasn’t worked” and called on the president to do more to warn Iran of a potential military strike.
At the AIPAC conference, Obama received the strongest applause when he spoke of the bond between the United States and Israel and when he said the United States had a profound interest in preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.
The audience gave him a standing ovation at the conclusion of the speech.
Netanyahu welcomed Obama’s speech but highlighted parts of it where the U.S. president said he would “take no options off the table” – a reference to the possibility of military action if necessary to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Netanyahu said he appreciated that Obama “made clear that when it comes to a nuclear-armed Iran, containment is simply not an option.”
“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,” Netanyahu added.
Mr. Obama made it clear that he considers diplomacy, and the policy of sanctions set in motion by the United States and Europe, as the best hopes for getting Iran to not pursue a nuclear weapon.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, addressing the AIPAC conference just before Obama took the podium, said the United States and Israel shared the goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
“There is no space between us,” said Peres, a former leader of the center-left Labor Party whose post is largely ceremonial. Peres has often taken a softer line on Middle East issues than Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party.
Last month, Iran abandoned preconditions for resuming international negotiations over its nuclear programs that the West had considered unacceptable.
The United States and other countries involved in the negotiations — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — are now considering their response to an Iranian letter that for the first time in more than a year appeared to open the door for resuming talks.
Mr. Obama’s speech was meant to demonstrate that he would use military options as a last resort.
“I do not have a policy of containment,” Mr. Obama said, to applause from the huge crowd at the Washington convention center. “I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve 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.”
“As president and commander in chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war,” Mr. Obama said. “I have sent men and women into harm’s way. I have seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who have come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don’t make it home.” He called the image of wounded American soldiers “the most searing of my presidency.”