WASHINGTON – Putting daylight between the US and Israel has emboldened Iran, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan charged during the VP debate held in Kentucky Thursday night.
The vice presidential debate, the only one held between the number two men on each party’s ticket, dealt with issues ranging from jobs to taxes to abortion but began with a segment on the Middle East.
Ryan sought to score points off his opponent, sitting Vice President Joe Biden, with several challenges over the Obama administration’s posture toward Israel and Iran.
Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, maintained that the administration has “no credibility” when it comes to the possibility of using force against Iran, because it has been hesitant to impose the aggressive sanctions backed by Congress and has frequently spoken about the dire consequences of such an attack, thereby giving “mixed signals.”
Ryan also warned of the message sent to Iran’s ayatollahs by Obama’s treatment of Israel, including the president’s closed-room comment early in his administration suggesting that he was willing to see daylight between the US and Israel, as well as his recent decision not to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu while he was in the United States for the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York last month.
“They see us saying, when we come into the administration, when they’re sworn in, we need more space with our ally Israel,” Ryan said. “They see President Obama in New York City the same day Bibi Netanyahu is, and he’s – instead of meeting with him goes on a – on a daily talk show.”
Netanyahu was not in the US the day Obama was in New York and appeared on TV, though the prime minister also offered to meet Obama days later in Washington. Obama made the unusual decision not to meet with any foreign leaders during the annual General Assembly session.
Biden, however, entirely rejected Ryan’s assertions, including the notion that there was distance between the White House and Netanyahu, whom he also referred to by his nickname, Bibi.
“Bibi, he’s been my friend for 39 years. The president has met with Bibi a dozen times. He’s spoken to Bibi Netanyahu as much as he’s spoken to anybody,” Biden said.
And then, in one of the debate’s lighter moments, Biden referred to the criticism over the White House’s relationship with Obama as “a bunch of stuff,” which moderator Martha Raddatz then asked him to define. Ryan interjected that it was “Irish,” and then Biden jokingly translated the phrase as “malarkey.”
Biden stressed that the US and Israeli intelligence communities are in “absolutely the same exact place in terms of how close the Iranians are to getting a nuclear weapon – they are a good way away.”
He added, “There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know we’ll know if they start the process of building a weapon.”
Some Israeli officials, however, have sounded less certain that intelligence would pick up the necessary information.
Biden also said that should force be used, “We feel quite confident we could deal a serious blow to the Iranians.”
Biden strongly defended the administration’s track record on Iran, pointing to the imposition of the most comprehensive sanctions in history.
“When [Republican presidential candidate] Governor Romney’s asked about it, he said, we got to keep these sanctions,” Biden noted. “You’re talking about doing more...
You’re going to go to war? Is that you want to do now?” Biden demurred when Raddatz asked which would be worse, a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East, saying that “war should always be the absolute last resort.”
Instead he focused on the “crippling sanctions,” and he concluded, “Big nations can’t bluff. This president doesn’t bluff.”
Ryan, for his part, answered, “I’ll tell you what’s worse: A nuclear-armed Iran, which triggers a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
At another point, though, he indicated he thought the timeline for moving toward armed confrontation with Iran was longer than the one laid out by Netanyahu.
Raddatz referred to Netanyahu’s appearance at the UN, in which he signaled that the Iranians would have progressed to an unacceptable point in their development of nuclear capabilities at some point in the spring.
We can debate the timeline, whether it’s that short a time or longer,” Ryan responded.
“It’s probably longer.”