Biden: Window closing for Iran diplomacy

US vice president stresses Israel's right to take action it sees necessary, speaking to Conservative Movement assembly.

US Vice President Joe Biden 311 (R) (photo credit: Toru Hanai/Reuters)
US Vice President Joe Biden 311 (R)
(photo credit: Toru Hanai/Reuters)
WASHINGTON – US Vice President Joe Biden declared Tuesday that the window had not yet closed on an Israeli military strike against Iran, but that the window for sanctions and diplomatic efforts to halt Tehran’s nuclear program would soon shut.
Biden also stressed Israel’s right to take the action it sees necessary and that Israel’s security is a “fundamental national interest” of the United States, criticizing some in the American Jewish community for questioning the Obama administration’s commitment to the Jewish state.
“The window has not closed in terms of the ability of the Israelis if they choose on their own to act militarily,” he said. “But diplomacy backed by serious, serious sanctions and pressure – on that score the window is closing in the near term.”
Speaking to the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement during the group’s 2012 convention in Atlanta, Biden related a conversation he had had with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in which the vice president told him, “Were I an Israeli, were I a Jew, I would not contract out my security to anyone, even a loyal, loyal, loyal friend like the United States.”
Biden said he conveyed the White House’s perspective that, “If Israel reached the conclusion, based on the facts as they best determined them, that Iran was on the verge of eliminating their ability to respond physically, to set that program back two to five years, I understood. We were not telling them [what] Israel could or could not do.”
Biden also obliquely referenced the Holocaust as a lasting lesson in the justification for Israel acting in its own defense.
“I would not contract out my nation’s security, and clearly no Jewish state should ever assume that history had changed so fundamentally that they would do that,” he said.
Biden, who was warmly received by the crowd, offered a lengthy defense of the Obama administration’s policy on Iran, including the use of sanctions to isolate the Islamic Republic.
“What frustrates me is that some have asserted – particularly some of my friends in the Jewish community, strong supporters of mine – that we’re not fully committed to the preservation and security of the State of Israel,” he said.
He pushed back on that charge with details of US military assistance to Israel – currently at its highest level in history – and the unprecedented number of contacts between high-ranking officials of both countries.
Biden’s speech, which comes as the general election between Obama and his presumptive GOP competitor Mitt Romney gets off the ground, also touched on some of the partisan political attacks facing the administration.
He lambasted “the criticism of the other team” on controversy over missile-defense sites in Europe aimed at deterring an Iranian attack.
And toward the end of his speech, Biden brought up economic and social issues in which he attacked Republican stances, including the GOP House budget proposal drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Biden also acknowledged that his words in the political arena can sometimes get him in trouble, as the vice president has frequently been cited for making gaffes. “No one’s ever doubted that I mean what I say. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean,” he said to laughter from the crowd.