President Barack Obama delivered his most explicit threat yet that the United States will attack Iran if that's what it takes to prevent it from developing a nuclear bomb. At the same time, he warned Israelis they would only make a bad situation worse if they moved pre-emptively against Iranian nuclear facilities.
The double-barreled warning, in an interview published Friday, came before Obama's high-stakes meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and a speech Sunday to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby. Obama said an Israeli strike would stir sympathy for the Islamic republic in a region where it has few allies.
"I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say," Obama told The Atlantic magazine. "I don't bluff."
He said Iran and Israel both understand that "a military component" is among a mix of many options for dealing with Iran, along with sanctions and diplomacy, making plain a threat to attack that had previously been more subtly implied.
The issue is infused with domestic politics in both the United States and Israel, and Obama is at pains to show American Jewish voters that he is not being harder on Israel than on Iran.
"Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they've had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?"
Obama then suggested an election-year answer to his own question, accusing Republicans of trying to slam a wedge "between Barack Obama and a Jewish-American vote that has historically been very supportive of his candidacy."
He firmly rejected the notion that the United States might settle for a strategy of letting the Iranians build a nuclear weapon but deterring them from using one.
"You're talking about the most volatile region in the world," he said. "It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe."
Israel has been publicly debating whether to launch air strikes on Iran's known nuclear facilities. The Obama administration argues there is still time to persuade Iran's leaders to back down. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Air strikes could actually make Israel less safe by angering neighbors that don't like either Israel or Iran but would be forced to side with Iran in the event it is attacked, the U.S. has argued.
"At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally (Syria) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?" Obama asked in the interview.
Original Print Headline: Obama cautions Iran and Israel
Only active print or digital subscribers of the Tulsa World are allowed to post comments on stories posted to Tulsaworld.com. After you fill out the form below and click submit, your comment will be published instantly online along with your screen name.
By clicking "Submit" you are agreeing to our terms and conditions.