Acknowledging that Iran’s clerical leadership may not respond to economic pressure, Obama assured the large audience of concerned Israeli supporters that he is willing to use “all elements of American power” to prevent the Islamic republic from developing a nuclear weapon. But, he said, diplomacy must first be allowed to run its course.
“For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster,” Obama told the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, a powerful lobbying group. “Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built.”
Obama’s public argument for patience stands as a likely preview of the message he will deliver privately Monday when he meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
In a statement following Obama’s remarks, Netanyahu said he “very much appreciated” the president’s “position that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table.”
He added: “Perhaps most important of all, I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
Obama’s AIPAC speech begins a critical week for his diplomacy to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions and assure Israel, America’s closest ally in the Middle East, that he can be trusted to act in its security interests.
Israel has concluded that Iran’s leadership has decided to pursue a nuclear weapon, and international inspectors have uncovered evidence to suggest a military intent for a program that Iran claims is meant only for civilian power purposes.
The Obama administration is not convinced that Iran’s leaders have decided to develop a weapon, although U.S. diplomats have worked with European allies to implement oil and banking sanctions against Iran until it gives up its uranium enrichment program.
Those sanctions will take full effect this summer, and administration officials have said that their intent, in part, is to foment public unrest inside Iran that may force the country’s leadership to rethink the value of its nuclear program.
Obama is managing the Iranian nuclear issue during an election year when his Republican rivals have called his leadership abroad weak and his support for Israel suspect. He is also facing the political threat posed by rising gasoline prices, which analysts say could skyrocket if war breaks out between Israel and Iran in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region.