Obama: I'll do all I can to stop Iran

Senator tells 'Post' that if Teheran fails to respond to "tough diplomacy," excuses will have been "stripped."

obama howovitz 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
obama howovitz 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Senator Barack Obama, the visiting Democratic presidential candidate who is leading the race for the White House, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday evening that, if elected president, he would do "everything in my power" to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Asked about concerns that the Iranians would abuse his stated readiness for "tough diplomacy" to play for time and keep moving ahead toward the bomb, Obama said that his "willingness to negotiate" had "very clear and direct goals" and "a sense of urgency." So "if the Iranians fail to respond, we've stripped away whatever excuses they may have, [and] whatever rationales may exist in the international community for not ratcheting up sanctions and taking serious action." Speaking to the Post in his room at the King David Hotel, Obama said that one of the failures of the US approach on this issue in the past "has been to use a lot of strong rhetoric but not follow through with the kinds of both carrots and sticks that might change the calculus of the Iranian regime. But I have also said that I would not take any options off the table, including military." Asked, therefore, whether having backed Israel's air strike on a Syrian nuclear facility last September, he would support an Israeli strike on Iranian facilities in the coming months if Israel felt it had no choice but to act, Obama replied, "My goal is to avoid being confronted with that hypothetical." He stressed that "Israelis, and Israelis alone, have to make decisions about their own security." But, he went on, "the grave consequences of either doing nothing or initiating a potential war with Iran are such that we want to do everything we can, to exhaust every avenue, to avoid that option." The interview came toward the end of a grueling day that had taken the 46-year-old Obama to Yad Vashem, Sderot and Ramallah, featured meetings with President Shimon Peres and other Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and continued late into the night with dinner with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and a visit to the Western Wall. Nonetheless, Obama seemed fresh and answered questions articulately on a range of issues crucial to Israel. He spelled out a succinct position on Jerusalem that followed from the correction of what he had called the "poor phrasing" of his address to AIPAC last month, telling the Post simply: "I believe that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. But I think that how Israel and the Palestinians resolve this issue is a final-status issue. It needs to be left up to the two parties." Asked whether he felt Israel had a right to try and maintain a presence in the West Bank - for security, religious, historic or other reasons - he answered firmly that Israel "should abide by previous agreements and commitments that have been made, and aggressive settlement construction would seem to violate the spirit at least, if not the letter, of agreements that have been made previously. "Israel's security concerns," Obama went on, "have to be taken into account, via negotiation. I think the parties in previous discussions have stated that settlement construction doesn't necessarily contribute to that enhanced security. I think there are those who would argue that the more settlements there are, the more Israel has to invest in protecting those settlements, and the more tensions arise that may undermine Israel's long-term security. Ultimately, though, these are part of the discussions that have to take place between the parties." (The full interview with Barack Obama will appear in Friday's Jerusalem Post.)