US President Barack Obama gestures during a meeting with American Jewish leaders.
(photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)
WASHINGTON – Israel’s intelligence community believes that diplomacy has “rolled back Iran’s nuclear program,” US President Barack Obama argued one last time on Tuesday evening in his final major national security speech before leaving office.
Framing international talks over Iran’s nuclear work as a model for approaching other challenges in the region, he suggested a similar effort may help to conclude the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Just think about what we’ve done these last eight years without firing a shot,” Obama said, listing a deal between the US and Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, as well as nonproliferation efforts around the world.
“We’ve rolled back Iran’s nuclear program,” he said. “That’s not just my assessment, that’s the assessment of Israeli intelligence, even though they were opposed to the deal.”
Obama urges Israel end occupation and Palestinians accept Israel
“All of these steps have helped keep us safe and helped keep our troops safe,” he continued.
“Those are the result of diplomacy. Sustained diplomatic efforts, no matter how frustrating or difficult they sometimes appear, are going to be required to resolve the conflicts roiling the in Middle East, from Yemen, to Syria, to Israel and Palestine.” It was a rare instance in which the president chose to use the term “Palestine” in the present tense.
He typically refers to the Palestinians as a people working toward an aspirational land called Palestine, although he did use the term in his landmark speech to the Arab world from Cairo in 2009, as well as in past addresses to the UN General Assembly.
While Obama does not believe the Palestinian challenge is at the core of the region’s problems, he has in the past suggested their plight is one of America’s greatest national security priorities.
Obama’s speech focused on the threat posed by violent extremist organizations based abroad, as well as by those individuals at home inspired by their causes. He noted that no major 9/11-style attack was successfully orchestrated against the US homeland during his presidency. “Today’s terrorists can kill innocent people, but they don’t pose an existential threat to our nation,” Obama said at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
“These terrorists can never directly destroy our way of life,” he continued, “but we can do it for them, if we lose track of who we are and the values that this nation was founded upon.”