WASHINGTON – Diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program can achieve greater
peace for Israel and the United States than could military action, US President
Barack Obama said on Saturday, putting chances for the success of his strategic
effort to avoid confrontation at no more than a flip of a coin.
cannot contract out its security,” Obama said. But “there are times where I, as
president of the United States, am going to have different tactical perspectives
than the prime minister of Israel.”
Speaking to the Brookings
Institution’s Saban Forum, the US president explained some of the greatest gaps
that still exist between himself and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who
continues to chide the short-term deal reached between world powers and Iran
last month that effectively halts the progress of Iran’s nuclear
The White House does not trust the Iranian government any
more than it did before, Obama said. But he also warned against
“underestimating” the shift that occurred in Iranian politics upon the election
of Hassan Rouhani last spring.
“The Iranian people responded by saying,
we need a new direction,” Obama said. “That’s what brought President Rouhani to
power. He was not necessarily the first choice among the hard-liners in Iran.”
While “we have to assume that his ideology is one that is hostile to the United
States and Israel,” he continued, “we should not underestimate, or entirely
dismiss, a shift in how the Iranian people want to interact with the
The fundamental difference in view between himself and Netanyahu,
Obama said, was that the Israeli leader believes that the constant mounting of
pressure will ultimately lead the Iranians to cave. But no party in the
political spectrum in Tehran will tolerate anything but a “dignified solution”
to the conflict, Obama said.
“One of the things we were always concerned
about was, if we did not show good faith to resolve this diplomatically, then
the sanctions regime would fray,” he said, explaining fears that international
partners would buckle at the implementation of further financial
“We provide a small window,” he said.
And if the deal
expires, “we could reverse them. And tighten them even
Repeatedly, the president asked the audience to compare the
deal that was cut in Geneva to alternative options. And yet when directly asked
what it would take for him to order a strike, he declined to answer, only
pointing to his willingness in the cases of Libya, Syria and against Osama bin
Laden to order risky assaults.
“But that was yesterday. What have you
done for me lately?” Obama quipped on the attitudes of his critics. He
reiterated America’s commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a weapon and
said that he reserved the option of using military force.
“If, on the
other hand, we’re able to get this deal done,” he added, “then what we can
achieve through a diplomatic solution... is simply greater.”
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