'If Khamenei could, he would inflict great harm on Israel,' Obama says

Nonetheless, the president told 'The New Yorker' that the Iranian government's behavior was not as extreme as its rhetoric suggests.

Obama and Khamenei (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama and Khamenei
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In his latest attempt to sell the public on the merits of the Iran nuclear agreement, US President Barack Obama told an American news magazine earlier this week that he was not naive about the threats against Israel made by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Republic's supreme leader.
“His ideology is steeped with anti-Semitism, and if he could, without catastrophic costs, inflict great harm on Israel, I’m confident that he would,” Obama told journalist Robin Wright of The New Yorker.
Nonetheless, the president said that the Iranian government's behavior was not as extreme as its rhetoric suggests.
“It is possible for leaders or regimes to be cruel, bigoted, twisted in their world views and still make rational calculations with respect to their limits and their self-preservation," Obama told The New Yorker. "And what we’ve seen, at least since 1979, is Iran making constant, calculated decisions that allow it to preserve the regime, to expand their influence where they can, to be opportunistic, to create what they view as hedges against potential Israeli attack, in the form of Hezbollah and other proxies in the region.”
In the interview, Obama denied that the nuclear agreement negotiated by his administration with Iran is a radical shift in US policy toward the Islamic Republic.
“This does not represent a strategic rapprochement between the United States and Iran," the president said. "This is a hardheaded, clear-eyed, calculated decision to take—to seize our best opportunity to lock down the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon.”
“There is nothing in this deal that is dependent on a transformation of the character of the Iranian regime.”
When asked how Obama could stomach negotiating with a country that regularly adheres to the mantra of "Death to America," he said: “It’s not appealing to deal with countries that express hatred towards us. It wasn’t easy to negotiate arms agreements with a near military peer [like the Soviet Union] that could blow up every American city.”
“But, when it comes to arms-control agreements, or nonproliferation agreements of any magnitude, by definition you’re generally dealing with those folks. I don’t have to negotiate an arms agreement with Great Britain or with France.”
Obama said that the idea of using military force against Iran is akin to "smacking around the little guy who mouths off to you in the schoolyard."
“Part of the underlying premise of why people don’t feel we should have to put up with that stuff is we’re bigger; if we launch a military strike, we can wipe them out," the president said. "There is a little bit of that schoolyard attitude of, it’s one thing for a guy your own size to mouth off to you. But if there’s a little guy, you should just smack him around. And it’s probably bad advice in the schoolyard. It’s certainly not a good way to run a foreign policy.”