OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:
March 13, 2015
March 13, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 13, 2015
March 12, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 12, 2015
March 11, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 11, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on February 7, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 1, 2014
Source: WH, 10-1-14
11:23 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it’s good once again to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu. Obviously, he’s no stranger to the White House. I think I’ve met with Bibi more than any world leader during my tenure as President.
We meet at a challenging time. Israel is obviously in a very turbulent neighborhood, and this gives us an opportunity once again to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and our ironclad commitment to making sure that Israel is secure.
Throughout the summer, obviously all of us were deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza. I think the American people should be very proud of the contributions that we made to the Iron Dome program to protect the lives of Israelis at a time when rockets were pouring into Israel on a regular basis. I think we also recognize that we have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes and schoolchildren in their schools from the possibility of rocket fire, but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.
And so we’ll discuss extensively both the situation of rebuilding Gaza but also how can we find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Our agenda will be broader than that, obviously. I’ll debrief Bibi on the work that we’re doing to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and the broader agenda that I discussed at the United Nations, which is mobilizing a coalition not only for military action, but also to bring about a shift in Arab states and Muslim countries that isolate the cancer of violent extremism that is so pernicious and ultimately has killed more Muslims than anything else.
And we’ll also have an opportunity to discuss the progress that’s being made with respect to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which obviously has been a high priority for not only Israel, but also the United States and the world community.
So we have a lot to talk about, and I appreciate very much the Prime Minister coming. It’s challenging I think for an Israeli Prime Minister to have to work so hard during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I know that the Prime Minister’s utmost priority is making sure that his country is safe during these difficult times. And we’re glad that the United States can be a partner in that process.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Mr. President, first I want to thank you. I want to thank you for the unflinching support you gave Israel during our difficult days and difficult summer we had — expressed in so many ways, but also in an additional installment of support for Iron Dome, which has saved so many lives, saved many lives across the border. And I thank you for that, and for the continuous bond of friendship that is so strong between Israel and the United States.
I also want to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you and to discuss the enormous challenges facing the United States and Israel in the Middle East. There’s definitely a new Middle East. I think it poses new dangers, but it also presents new opportunities.
As for the dangers, Israel fully supports your effort and your leadership to defeat ISIS. We think everybody should support this. And even more critical is our shared goal of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power.
As you know, Mr. President, Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power. I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen.
Equally, I think that there are opportunities. And the opportunities, as you just expressed, is something that is changing in the Middle East, because out of the new situation, there emerges a commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states. And I think that we should work very hard together to seize on those common interests and build a positive program to advance a more secure, more prosperous and a more peaceful Middle East.
I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock solid security arrangements on the ground. And I believe we should make use of the new opportunities, think outside the box, see how we can recruit the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda. And I look forward to our discussions on these and many other matters.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much, everybody.
11:29 A.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 1, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 22, 2013
Source: WH, 12-7-13
1:13 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello! (Applause.)
MR. SABAN: How are you doing?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m good. Hello, everybody.
MR. SABAN: One of your staffers said you are in a great mood this afternoon, so —
THE PRESIDENT: I am.
MR. SABAN: — we’re doubly blessed here. So that’s terrific.
I’d like to thank you very much for being here today, Mr. President. The Forum, and I personally, are honored to have you join us in this conversation. And I am personally honored that you insisted that I have this conversation with you, even though I never set foot for any conversation for 10 years. (Laughter.) So thank you. I’m very honored.
Shall we start with Iran?
THE PRESIDENT: We should.
MR. SABAN: Okay, good. (Laughter.) Mr. President, polls indicate that 77 percent of Israelis don’t believe this first nuclear deal will preclude Iran from having nuclear weapons, and they perceive this fact as an existential matter for them. What can you say to the Israeli people to address their concern?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, before I answer the question, let me say to you, Haim, thank you so much for the great work that you’ve done. I think the Saban Forum and the Saban Center has done outstanding work, and it provides us a mechanism where we don’t just scratch the surface of these issues. Obviously the challenges in the Middle East are enormous, and the work that’s being done here is terrific.
So I want to also thank Strobe for hosting us here today, and all of you who are here, including some outstanding members of the Israeli government and some friends that I haven’t seen in a while. So thanks for having me.
Let me start with the basic premise that I’ve said repeatedly. It is in America’s national security interests, not just Israel’s national interests or the region’s national security interests, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
And let’s remember where we were when I first came into office. Iran had gone from having less than 200 centrifuges to having thousands of centrifuges, in some cases more advanced centrifuges. There was a program that had advanced to the point where their breakout capacity had accelerated in ways that we had been concerned about for quite some time and, as a consequence, what I said to my team and what I said to our international partners was that we are going to have to be much more serious about how we change the cost-benefit analysis for Iran.
We put in place an unprecedented regime of sanctions that has crippled Iran’s economy, cut their oil revenues by more than half, have put enormous pressure on their currency — their economy contracted by more than 5 percent last year. And it is precisely because of the international sanctions and the coalition that we were able to build internationally that the Iranian people responded by saying, we need a new direction in how we interact with the international community and how we deal with this sanctions regime. And that’s what brought President Rouhani to power. He was not necessarily the first choice of the hardliners inside of Iran.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we should trust him or anybody else inside of Iran. This is a regime that came to power swearing opposition to the United States, to Israel, and to many of the values that we hold dear. But what I’ve consistently said is even as I don’t take any options off the table, what we do have to test is the possibility that we can resolve this issue diplomatically. And that is the deal that, at the first stages, we have been able to get done in Geneva, thanks to some extraordinary work by John Kerry and his counterparts in the P5-plus-1.
So let’s look at exactly what we’ve done. For the first time in over a decade, we have halted advances in the Iranian nuclear program. We have not only made sure that in Fordor and Natanz that they have to stop adding additional centrifuges, we’ve also said that they’ve got to roll back their 20 percent advanced enrichment. So we’re —
MR. SABAN: To how much?
THE PRESIDENT: Down to zero. So you remember when Prime Minister Netanyahu made his presentation before the United Nations last year —
MR. SABAN: The cartoon with the red line?
THE PRESIDENT: The picture of a bomb — he was referring to 20 percent enrichment, which the concern was if you get too much of that, you now have sufficient capacity to go ahead and create a nuclear weapon. We’re taking that down to zero. We are stopping the advancement of the Arak facility, which would provide an additional pathway, a plutonium pathway for the development of nuclear weapons.
We are going to have daily inspectors in Fordor and Natanz. We’re going to have additional inspections in Arak. And as a consequence, during this six-month period, Iran cannot and will not advance its program or add additional stockpiles of advanced uranium — enriched uranium.
Now, what we’ve done in exchange is kept all these sanctions in place — the architecture remains with respect to oil, with respect to finance, with respect to banking. What we’ve done is we’ve turned the spigot slightly and we’ve said, here’s maximum $7 billion out of the over $100 billion of revenue of theirs that is frozen as a consequence of our sanctions, to give us the time and the space to test whether they can move in a direction, a comprehensive, permanent agreement that would give us all assurances that they’re not producing nuclear weapons.
MR. SABAN: I understand. A quick question as it relates to the $7 billion, if I may.
THE PRESIDENT: Please.
MR. SABAN: How do we prevent those who work with us in Geneva, who have already descended on Tehran looking for deals, to cause the seven to become 70? Because we can control what we do, but what is the extent that we can control the others?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Haim, this is precisely why the timing of this was right. One of the things we were always concerned about was that if we did not show good faith in trying to resolve this issue diplomatically, then the sanctions regime would begin to fray.
Keep in mind that this was two years of extraordinary diplomatic work on behalf of our team to actually get the sanctions in place. They’re not just the unilateral sanctions that are created by the United States. These are sanctions that are also participated in by Russia, by China, and some allies of ours like South Korea and Japan that find these sanctions very costly. But that’s precisely why they’ve become so effective.
And so what we’ve said is that we do not loosen any of the core sanctions; we provide a small window through which they can access some revenue, but we can control it and it is reversible. And during the course of these six months, if and when Iran shows itself not to be abiding by this agreement, not to be negotiating in good faith, we can reverse them and tighten them even further.
But here is the bottom line. Ultimately, my goal as President of the United States — something that I’ve said publicly and privately and shared everywhere I’ve gone — is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But what I’ve also said is the best way for us to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons is for a comprehensive, verifiable, diplomatic resolution, without taking any other options off the table if we fail to achieve that.
It is important for us to test that proposition during the next six months, understanding that while we’re talking, they’re not secretly improving their position or changing circumstances on the ground inside of Iran. And if at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them.
If, on the other hand, we’re able to get this deal done, then what we can achieve through a diplomatic resolution of this situation is, frankly, greater than what we could achieve with the other options that are available to us.
MR. SABAN: Let’s all hope we get there.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
MR. SABAN: You have hosted Passover dinners at the White House.
THE PRESIDENT: I have.
MR. SABAN: And you know this famous saying, “Why is this night different than any other night?” In that context, I would like to ask you a question.
THE PRESIDENT: Please.
MR. SABAN: With the best intentions and all efforts, President Reagan vowed that Pakistan would not go nuclear. Didn’t happen. With the best intentions and all efforts, President Clinton vowed that North Korea won’t go nuclear. Why is this nuclear deal different than any other nuclear deal? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we don’t know yet. No, we don’t know yet. I think it’s important for everybody to understand this is hard. Because the technology of the nuclear cycle, you can get off the Internet; the knowledge of creating a nuclear weapons is already out there. And Iran is a large country and it is a relatively wealthy country, and so we have to take seriously the possibility that they are going to try to get a nuclear weapon. That’s what this whole exercise is about.
Having said that, if you look at the history, by the time we got an agreement with North Korea, they essentially already had a nuclear weapon. With respect to Pakistan, there was never the kinds of inspection regimes and international sanctions and U.N. resolutions that were in place. We have been able to craft an international effort and verification mechanism around the Iran nuclear program that is unprecedented and unique. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. And that’s why we have to take it seriously.
But I think one of the things that I’ve repeatedly said when people ask, why should we try to negotiate with them, we can’t trust them, we’re being naïve, what I try to describe to them is not the choice between this deal and the ideal, but the choice between this deal and other alternatives.
If I had an option, if we could create an option in which Iran eliminated every single nut and bolt of their nuclear program, and foreswore the possibility of ever having a nuclear program, and, for that matter, got rid of all its military capabilities, I would take it. But —
MR. SABAN: Next question —
THE PRESIDENT: Sorry, Haim, I want to make sure everybody understands it — that particular option is not available. And so as a consequence, what we have to do is to make a decision as to, given the options available, what is the best way for us to assure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.
And the best way for us to assure it is to test this diplomatic path, understanding that it’s not based on trust; it’s based on what we can verify. And it also, by the way, does not negate the fact that Iran is engaging in a whole bunch of other behavior in the Middle East and around the world that is detrimental to the United States and detrimental to Israel.
And we will continue to contest their efforts where they’re engaging in terrorism, where they’re being disruptive to our friends and our allies. We will not abide by any threats to our friends and allies in the region, and we’ve made that perfectly clear. And our commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct, and they understand that. They don’t have any doubt about that.
But if we can negotiate on the nuclear program in the same way that Ronald Reagan was able to negotiate with the Soviet Union even as we were still contesting them around the world, that removes one more threat — and a critical, existential threat — takes it out of their arsenal. And it allows us then to ultimately I think win them — defeat some of their agenda throughout the region without worrying that somehow it’s going to escalate or trigger a nuclear arms race in the most volatile part of the world.
MR. SABAN: Unfortunately, you’re right — it would. Tom Friedman had an interesting perspective in one of his columns. He said, “Never negotiate with Iran without some leverage and some crazy on your side. We have to out-crazy the crazies.” Do you think he has a point? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Tom is a very smart observer. And I know that my friend, Bibi, is going to be speaking later, and if Tom wants to characterize Bibi the way you just described, that’s his —
MR. SABAN: I didn’t say that.
THE PRESIDENT: — that’s his prerogative, that’s not my view. (Laughter.)
Prime Minister Netanyahu and I have had constant consultations on these issues throughout the last five years. And something that I think bears repeating: The United States military cooperation with Israel has never been stronger. Our intelligence cooperation with Israel has never been stronger. Our support of Israel’s security has never been stronger. Whether you’re talking about Iron Dome, whether you’re talking about trying to manage the situation in Gaza a little over a year ago, across the board, our coordination on the concrete issues facing Israel’s security has never been stronger. And that’s not just my opinion; I think that’s something that can be verified.
There are times where I, as President of the United States, am going to have different tactical perspectives than the Prime Minister of Israel — and that is understandable, because Israel cannot contract out its security. In light of the history that the people of Israel understand all too well, they have to make sure that they are making their own assessments about what they need to do to protect themselves. And we respect that. And I have said that consistently to the Prime Minister.
But ultimately, it is my view, from a tactical perspective, that we have to test out this proposition. It will make us stronger internationally, and it may possibly lead to a deal that we’ll have to show to the world, in fact, assures us that Iran is not getting a nuclear weapon.
It’s not as if there’s going to be a lot of capacity to hide the ball here. We’re going to be able to make an assessment, because this will be subject to the P5-plus-1 and the international community looking at the details of every aspect of a potential final deal, and we’re consulting with all our friends, including Israel, in terms of what would that end state look like. And if we can’t get there, then no deal is better than a bad deal. But presuming that it’s going to be a bad deal and, as a consequence, not even trying for a deal I think would be a dire mistake.
MR. SABAN: Well, personally, I find a lot of comfort in the fact that even though the United States and Israel may have red lines in different places, we are on the same place as far as the bottom line goes —
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
MR. SABAN: — and Iran will not have nuclear weapons. Fair to say?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. That is more than fair.
MR. SABAN: Good. Thank you. Should we move to these Israeli-Palestinians —
THE PRESIDENT: We should.
MR. SABAN: Okay. (Laughter.) Very obedient President I have here today. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: This is the Saban Forum, so you’re in charge. (Laughter.)
MR. SABAN: I wish. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Or Cheryl is in charge.
MR. SABAN: You’re more on now, Mr. President. It is Cheryl who is in charge.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right.
MR. SABAN: Anyway. (Laughter.) First of all, before I ask the first question, I would be remiss if I didn’t, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your continuous effort to achieve peace in the Middle East. Thank you so very much. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate it. Thank you.
MR. SABAN: So people talk about an imposed American solution. We’ve heard these rumors rumbling around for a while. The U.S. has always said it doesn’t want to impose. What would you propose?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, this is a challenge that we’ve been wrestling with for 60 years. And what I’ve consistently said is that the only way this is going to be resolved is if the people of Israel and the Palestinian people make a determination that their futures and the futures of their children and grandchildren will be better off with peace than with conflict. The United States can be an effective facilitator of that negotiation and dialogue; we can help to bridge differences and bridge gaps. But both sides have to want to get there.
And I have to commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for the courageous efforts that have led to very serious conversations over the last several months. They are not easy. But they come down to what we all know are going to be the core issues: territory; security; refugees; Jerusalem.
And there are not a lot of secrets or surprises at this point. We know what the outlines of a potential agreement might look like. And the question then becomes are both sides willing to take the very tough political risks involved if their bottom lines are met.
For the Palestinians, the bottom line is that they have a state of their own that is real and meaningful. For the Israelis, the bottom line is, to a large extent, is the state of Israel as a Jewish state secure. And those issues have been spoken about over the last several months in these negotiations in a very serious way. And I know Tzipi Livni is here and been participating in that, and we’re very grateful for her efforts there.
And I think it is possible over the next several months to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail but gets us to a point where everybody recognizes better to move forward than move backwards. Sometimes when you’re climbing up a mountain, even when it’s scary, it’s actually easier to go up than it is to go down. And I think that we’re now at a place where we can achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side-by-side in peace and security. But it’s going to require some very tough decisions.
One thing I have to say, though, is we have spent a lot of time working with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his entire team to understand from an Israeli perspective what is required for the security of Israel in such a scenario. And we — going back to what I said earlier — we understand that we can’t dictate to Israel what it needs for its security. But what we have done is to try to understand it and then see through a consultative process, are there ways that, through technology, through additional ideas, we can potentially provide for that.
And I assigned one of our top former generals, John Allen, who most recently headed up the entire coalition effort in Afghanistan — he’s retired now, but he was willing to take on this mission — and he’s been working to examine the entire set of challenges around security —
MR. SABAN: Has he concluded anything?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, he’s come up to — he has arrived at the conclusion that it is possible to create a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s core security needs.
Now, that’s his conclusion, but ultimately he’s not the decision-maker here. Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli military and intelligence folks have to make that determination. And ultimately, the Palestinians have to also recognize that there is going to be a transition period where the Israeli people cannot expect a replica of Gaza in the West Bank. That is unacceptable. And I think we believe that we can arrive at that point where Israel was confident about that, but we’re going to have to see whether the Israelis agree and whether President Abbas, then, is willing to understand that this transition period requires some restraint on the part of the Palestinians as well. They don’t get everything that they want on day one. And that creates some political problems for President Abbas, as well.
MR. SABAN: Yes. Well, I’d say my next question of what was the reaction of the Prime Minister to General Allen for John Kerry.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, ask John Kerry, or ask the Prime Minister.
MR. SABAN: Okay.
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t want to speak for him. (Laughter.)
MR. SABAN: They won’t tell me, but, okay. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: That’s probably true.
MR. SABAN: My last question: The Palestinians are two people — one in the West Bank, led by President Abbas that is negotiating the deal; and one in Gaza, led by Hamas that wants to eradicate Israel from the face of the Earth. President Abbas, as far as I know, says he won’t make a deal that doesn’t include Gaza, which he doesn’t control. How do we get out from this labyrinth?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think this is going to have to happen in stages. But here’s what I know from my visits to Israel, my visits to the West Bank: There are people of goodwill on both sides that recognize the status quo is not sustainable over the long term, and as a consequence, it is in the interests of both the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve this issue.
There are young people, teenagers that I met both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories that want to get out from under this history and seek a future that is fundamentally different for them. And so if, in fact, we can create a pathway to peace, even if initially it’s restricted to the West Bank, if there is a model where young Palestinians in Gaza are looking and seeing that in the West Bank Palestinians are able to live in dignity, with self-determination, and suddenly their economy is booming and trade is taking place because they have created an environment in which Israel is confident about its security and a lot of the old barriers to commerce and educational exchange and all that has begun to break down, that’s something that the young people of Gaza are going to want. And the pressure that will be placed for the residents of Gaza to experience that same future is something that is going to be I think overwhelmingly appealing.
But that is probably going to take place during the course of some sort of transition period. And the security requirements that Israel requires will have to be met. And I think that is able — that we can accomplish that, but ultimately it’s going to be something that requires everybody to stretch out of their comfort zones.
And the one thing I will say to the people of Israel is that you can be assured whoever is in the office I currently occupy, Democrat or Republican, that your security will be uppermost on our minds. That will not change. And that should not mean you let up on your vigilance in terms of wanting to look out for your own country. It does — it should give you some comfort, though, that you have the most powerful nation on Earth as your closest friend and ally. And that commitment is going to be undiminished.
Q That was my last question.
THE PRESIDENT: I promised — we worked something backstage where as long as Haim’s questions weren’t too long, I’d take a couple of questions from the audience. And he was very disciplined — (laughter) — so let me take one or two.
This gentleman right here. Why don’t you get a microphone so everybody can hear you?
Q Mr. President, I used to be a general in the Israeli Air Force, in intelligence, and now running a think tank in Tel Aviv. Looking into the future agreement with Iran — I put behind me the initial agreement, and what is really important is the final agreement. Two questions. What is the parameters that you see as a red line to ensure that Iran will be moving forward — moving backward, rolling back from the bomb as much as possible? And what is your plan B if an agreement cannot be reached?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, with respect to the end state, I want to be very clear there’s nothing in this agreement or document that grants Iran a right to enrich. We’ve been very clear that given its past behavior, and given existing U.N. resolutions and previous violations by Iran of its international obligations, that we don’t recognize such a right, and if, by the way, negotiations break down, there will be no additional international recognition that’s been obtained. So this deal goes away and we’re back to where we were before the Geneva agreement, subject — and Iran will continue to be subject to all the sanctions that we put in place in the past and we may seek additional ones.
But I think what we have said is we can envision a comprehensive agreement that involves extraordinary constraints and verification mechanisms and intrusive inspections, but that permits Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program.
Now, in terms of specifics, we know that they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordor in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They certainly don’t need a heavy-water reactor at Arak in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They don’t need some of the advanced centrifuges that they currently possess in order to have a limited, peaceful nuclear program.
And so the question ultimately is going to be, are they prepared to roll back some of the advancements that they’ve made that would not justify — or could not be justified by simply wanting some modest, peaceful nuclear power, but, frankly, hint at a desire to have breakout capacity and go right to the edge of breakout capacity. And if we can move that significantly back, then that is, I think, a net win.
Now, you’ll hear arguments, including potentially from the Prime Minister, that say we can’t accept any enrichment on Iranian soil. Period. Full stop. End of conversation. And this takes me back to the point I made earlier. One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone. I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward. (Laughter.) I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful. (Laughter.) But precisely because we don’t trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves, what puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran is not having a nuclear weapon and that we are protected? What is required to accomplish that, and how does that compare to other options that we might take?
And it is my strong belief that we can envision a end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity.
Theoretically, they might still have some. But, frankly, theoretically, they will always have some, because, as I said, the technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world. And they have already gone through the cycle to the point where the knowledge, we’re not going to be able to eliminate. But what we can do is eliminate the incentive for them to want to do this.
And with respect to what happens if this breaks down, I won’t go into details. I will say that if we cannot get the kind of comprehensive end state that satisfies us and the world community and the P5-plus-1, then the pressure that we’ve been applying on them and the options that I’ve made clear I can avail myself of, including a military option, is one that we would consider and prepare for. And we’ve always said that. So that does not change.
But the last point I’ll make on this. When I hear people who criticize the Geneva deal say it’s got to be all or nothing, I would just remind them if it’s nothing, if we did not even try for this next six months to do this, all the breakout capacity we’re concerned about would accelerate during that six months. Arak would be further along. The advanced centrifuges would have been put in place. They’d be that much closer to breakout capacity six months from now. And that’s why I think it’s important for us to try to test this proposition.
I’ll take a couple more. Yes, sir. Right over here.
Q Mr. President, Israeli journalist from Isreal Hayom daily newspaper. Mr. President, I covered the negotiations with Iran, nuclear negotiations — Geneva 2009, Istanbul 2010. And I came back now from Geneva again, where you could see the big change was not only on Iran’s side, but also on the P5-plus-1 side, meaning they were very eager to reach an agreement. Coming back from Geneva, we learned, and some of us had known before, the secret talks America had with Iran. And we know the concern you have on the Israeli security — e’re very grateful. But how does it coincide with your secret negotiations Washington had with Tehran? Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: The truth is, is that, without going into the details, there weren’t a lot of secret negotiations. Essentially what happened — and we were very clear and transparent about this — is that from the time I took office, I said we would reach out to Iran and we would let them know we’re prepared to open up a diplomatic channel. After Rouhani was elected, there was some acceleration leading up to the U.N. General Assembly. You’ll recall that Rouhani was engaging in what was termed a charm offensive, right, and he was going around talking to folks. And at that point, it made sense for us to see, all right, how serious are you potentially about having these conversations.
They did not get highly substantive in the first several meetings but were much more exploring how much room, in fact, did they have to get something done. And then as soon as they began to get more technical, at that point, they converged with the P5-plus-1 discussions.
I will say this: The fact of Rhouhani’s election — it’s been said that there’s no difference between him and Ahmadinejad except that he’s more charming. I think that understates the shift in politics that took place in this election. Obviously, Rouhani is part of the Iranian establishment and I think we have to assume that his ideology is one that is hostile to the United States and to Israel. But what he also represents is the desire on the part of the Iranian people for a change of direction. And we should not underestimate or entirely dismiss a shift in how the Iranian people want to interact with the world.
There’s a lot of change that’s going to be taking place in the Middle East over the next decade. And wherever we see the impulses of a people to move away from conflict, violence, and towards diplomatic resolution of conflicts, we should be ready and prepared to engage them — understanding, though, that, ultimately it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.
And we have to be vigilant about maintaining our security postures, not be naïve about the dangers that an Iranian regime pose, fight them wherever they’re engaging in terrorism or actions that are hostile to us or our allies. But we have to not constantly assume that it’s not possible for Iran, like any country, to change over time. It may not be likely. If you asked me what is the likelihood that we’re able to arrive at the end state that I was just describing earlier, I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50/50. But we have to try.
Last question. And I think it’s — the young lady right there.
Q Mr. President, I’m a reporter for Israeli Channel Two. I have been listening to your analysis of the Iranian deal, and I can only imagine a different — a slightly different analysis given by our Prime Minister Netanyahu.
THE PRESIDENT: I think that’s probably a good bet. That’s more than 50/50. (Laughter.)
Q Israelis are known for their understatement. (Laughter.) And I try to imagine a conversation between you two. And he would ask you, Mr. President, I see this deal as a historic mistake — which he has already stated — and I think it’s the worst deal the West could have gotten. And you would have told him, Bibi, that’s where you go wrong. What would you have told him? That’s one thing. And then, perhaps to understand the essence of your conversation, he would ask you, Mr. President, is there one set of circumstances under which you will order your B-52s to strike in Iran? What would you tell him? (Laughter.) Is there any set of circumstances in which you will order your fighter pilots to strike in Iran? What would you tell the Prime Minister?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me make a couple of points. Number one, obviously, the conversations between me and the Prime Minister are for me and the Prime Minister, not for an audience like this. And I will say that Bibi and I have very candid conversations, and there are occasionally significant tactical disagreements, but there is a constancy in trying to reach the same goal. And in this case, that goal is to make sure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon.
As President of the United States, I don’t go around advertising the circumstances in which I order pilots to launch attacks. That I think would be bad practice. (Laughter.) I also would say, though, that when the President of the United States says that he doesn’t take any options off the table, that should be taken seriously. And I think I have a track record over the last five years that indicates that that should be taken seriously.
It’s interesting — in the region, there was this interesting interpretation of what happened with respect to Syria. I said it’s a problem for Syria to have chemical weapons that it uses on its own citizens. And when we had definitive proof that it had, I indicated my willingness potentially to take military action. The fact that we ultimately did not take military action in some quarters was interpreted as, ah, you see, the President is not willing to take military action — despite the fact that I think Mr. Qaddafi would have a different view of that, or Mr. bin Laden. Be that as it may, that was yesterday, what have you done for me lately? (Laughter.)
But the point is that my preference was always to resolve the issue diplomatically. And it turns out, lo and behold, that Syria now is actually removing its chemical weapons that a few months ago it denied it even possessed, and has provided a comprehensive list, and they have already begun taking these weapons out of Syria. And although that does not solve the tragic situation inside of Syria, it turns out that removing those chemical weapons will make us safer and it will make Israel safer, and it will make the Syrian people safer, and it will make the region safer.
And so I do not see military action as an end unto itself. Military action is one tool that we have in a tool kit that includes diplomacy in achieving our goals, which is ultimately our security.
And I think if you want to summarize the difference, in some ways, between myself and the Prime Minister on the Geneva issue, I think what this comes down to is the perception, potentially, that if we just kept on turning up the pressure — new sanctions, more sanctions, more military threats, et cetera — that eventually Iran would cave. And what I’ve tried to explain is two points: One is that the reason the sanctions have been so effective — because we set them up in a painstaking fashion — the reason they’ve been effective is because other countries had confidence that we were not imposing sanctions just for the sake of sanctions, but we were imposing sanctions for the sake of trying to actually get Iran to the table and resolve the issue. And if the perception internationally was that we were not in good faith trying to resolve the issue diplomatically, that, more than anything, would actually begin to fray the edges of the sanctions regime. Point number one.
And point number two — I’ve already said this before — you have to compare the approach that we’re taking now with the alternatives. The idea that Iran, given everything we know about their history, would just continue to get more and more nervous about more sanctions and military threats, and ultimately just say, okay, we give in — I think does not reflect an honest understanding of the Iranian people or the Iranian regime. And I say that — by the way, I’m not just talking about the hardliners inside of Iran. I think even the so-called moderates or reformers inside of Iran would not be able to simply say, we will cave and do exactly what the U.S. and the Israelis say.
They are going to have to have a path in which they feel that there is a dignified resolution to this issue. That’s a political requirement of theirs, and that, I suspect, runs across the political spectrum. And so for us to present a door that serves our goals and our purposes but also gives them the opportunity to, in a dignified fashion, reenter the international community and change the approach that they’ve taken — at least on this narrow issue, but one that is of extraordinary importance to all of us — is an opportunity that we should grant them.
Well, thank you very much. I enjoyed this. (Applause.)
MR. SABAN: Thank you so much. Thank you, Mr. President. You’ve been very generous. (Applause.)
2:00 P.M. EST
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 7, 2013
Posted by bonniekgoodman on November 25, 2013
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(GENEVA) — Iran and six world powers reached a preliminary deal Sunday morning to freeze key parts of Tehran’s nuclear program in return for temporary relief on economic sanctions….READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on November 24, 2013
Source: WH, 11-23-13
The P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China, facilitated by the European Union) has been engaged in serious and substantive negotiations with Iran with the goal of reaching a verifiable diplomatic resolution that would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
President Obama has been clear that achieving a peaceful resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is in America’s national security interest. Today, the P5+1 and Iran reached a set of initial understandings that halts the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and rolls it back in key respects. These are the first meaningful limits that Iran has accepted on its nuclear program in close to a decade. The initial, six month step includes significant limits on Iran’s nuclear program and begins to address our most urgent concerns including Iran’s enrichment capabilities; its existing stockpiles of enriched uranium; the number and capabilities of its centrifuges; and its ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium using the Arak reactor. The concessions Iran has committed to make as part of this first step will also provide us with increased transparency and intrusive monitoring of its nuclear program. In the past, the concern has been expressed that Iran will use negotiations to buy time to advance their program. Taken together, these first step measures will help prevent Iran from using the cover of negotiations to continue advancing its nuclear program as we seek to negotiate a long-term, comprehensive solution that addresses all of the international community’s concerns.
In return, as part of this initial step, the P5+1 will provide limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible relief to Iran. This relief is structured so that the overwhelming majority of the sanctions regime, including the key oil, banking, and financial sanctions architecture, remains in place. The P5+1 will continue to enforce these sanctions vigorously. If Iran fails to meet its commitments, we will revoke the limited relief and impose additional sanctions on Iran.
The P5+1 and Iran also discussed the general parameters of a comprehensive solution that would constrain Iran’s nuclear program over the long term, provide verifiable assurances to the international community that Iran’s nuclear activities will be exclusively peaceful, and ensure that any attempt by Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon would be promptly detected. The set of understandings also includes an acknowledgment by Iran that it must address all United Nations Security Council resolutions – which Iran has long claimed are illegal – as well as past and present issues with Iran’s nuclear program that have been identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This would include resolution of questions concerning the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program, including Iran’s activities at Parchin. As part of a comprehensive solution, Iran must also come into full compliance with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its obligations to the IAEA. With respect to the comprehensive solution, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Put simply, this first step expires in six months, and does not represent an acceptable end state to the United States or our P5+1 partners.
Halting the Progress of Iran’s Program and Rolling Back Key Elements
Iran has committed to halt enrichment above 5%:
· Halt all enrichment above 5% and dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.
Iran has committed to neutralize its stockpile of near-20% uranium:
· Dilute below 5% or convert to a form not suitable for further enrichment its entire stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium before the end of the initial phase.
Iran has committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity:
· Not install additional centrifuges of any type.
· Not install or use any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.
· Leave inoperable roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow, so they cannot be used to enrich uranium.
· Limit its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran cannot use the six months to stockpile centrifuges.
· Not construct additional enrichment facilities.
Iran has committed to halt progress on the growth of its 3.5% stockpile:
· Not increase its stockpile of 3.5% low enriched uranium, so that the amount is not greater at the end of the six months than it is at the beginning, and any newly enriched 3.5% enriched uranium is converted into oxide.
Iran has committed to no further advances of its activities at Arak and to halt progress on its plutonium track. Iran has committed to:
· Not commission the Arak reactor.
· Not fuel the Arak reactor.
· Halt the production of fuel for the Arak reactor.
· No additional testing of fuel for the Arak reactor.
· Not install any additional reactor components at Arak.
· Not transfer fuel and heavy water to the reactor site.
· Not construct a facility capable of reprocessing. Without reprocessing, Iran cannot separate plutonium from spent fuel.
Unprecedented transparency and intrusive monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program
Iran has committed to:
· Provide daily access by IAEA inspectors at Natanz and Fordow. This daily access will permit inspectors to review surveillance camera footage to ensure comprehensive monitoring. This access will provide even greater transparency into enrichment at these sites and shorten detection time for any non-compliance.
· Provide IAEA access to centrifuge assembly facilities.
· Provide IAEA access to centrifuge rotor component production and storage facilities.
· Provide IAEA access to uranium mines and mills.
· Provide long-sought design information for the Arak reactor. This will provide critical insight into the reactor that has not previously been available.
· Provide more frequent inspector access to the Arak reactor.
· Provide certain key data and information called for in the Additional Protocol to Iran’s IAEA Safeguards Agreement and Modified Code 3.1.
The IAEA will be called upon to perform many of these verification steps, consistent with their ongoing inspection role in Iran. In addition, the P5+1 and Iran have committed to establishing a Joint Commission to work with the IAEA to monitor implementation and address issues that may arise. The Joint Commission will also work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present concerns with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, including the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s activities at Parchin.
Limited, Temporary, Reversible Relief
In return for these steps, the P5+1 is to provide limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible relief while maintaining the vast bulk of our sanctions, including the oil, finance, and banking sanctions architecture. If Iran fails to meet its commitments, we will revoke the relief. Specifically the P5+1 has committed to:
· Not impose new nuclear-related sanctions for six months, if Iran abides by its commitments under this deal, to the extent permissible within their political systems.
· Suspend certain sanctions on gold and precious metals, Iran’s auto sector, and Iran’s petrochemical exports, potentially providing Iran approximately $1.5 billion in revenue.
· License safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines.
· Allow purchases of Iranian oil to remain at their currently significantly reduced levels – levels that are 60% less than two years ago. $4.2 billion from these sales will be allowed to be transferred in installments if, and as, Iran fulfills its commitments.
· Allow $400 million in governmental tuition assistance to be transferred from restricted Iranian funds directly to recognized educational institutions in third countries to defray the tuition costs of Iranian students.
Facilitate humanitarian transactions that are already allowed by U.S. law. Humanitarian transactions have been explicitly exempted from sanctions by Congress so this channel will not provide Iran access to any new source of funds. Humanitarian transactions are those related to Iran’s purchase of food, agricultural commodities, medicine, medical devices; we would also facilitate transactions for medical expenses incurred abroad. We will establish this channel for the benefit of the Iranian people.
Putting Limited Relief in Perspective
In total, the approximately $7 billion in relief is a fraction of the costs that Iran will continue to incur during this first phase under the sanctions that will remain in place. The vast majority of Iran’s approximately $100 billion in foreign exchange holdings are inaccessible or restricted by sanctions.
In the next six months, Iran’s crude oil sales cannot increase. Oil sanctions alone will result in approximately $30 billion in lost revenues to Iran – or roughly $5 billion per month – compared to what Iran earned in a six month period in 2011, before these sanctions took effect. While Iran will be allowed access to $4.2 billion of its oil sales, nearly $15 billion of its revenues during this period will go into restricted overseas accounts. In summary, we expect the balance of Iran’s money in restricted accounts overseas will actually increase, not decrease, under the terms of this deal.
Maintaining Economic Pressure on Iran and Preserving Our Sanctions Architecture
During the first phase, we will continue to vigorously enforce our sanctions against Iran, including by taking action against those who seek to evade or circumvent our sanctions.
· Sanctions affecting crude oil sales will continue to impose pressure on Iran’s government. Working with our international partners, we have cut Iran’s oil sales from 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in early 2012 to 1 million bpd today, denying Iran the ability to sell almost 1.5 million bpd. That’s a loss of more than $80 billion since the beginning of 2012 that Iran will never be able to recoup. Under this first step, the EU crude oil ban will remain in effect and Iran will be held to approximately 1 million bpd in sales, resulting in continuing lost sales worth an additional $4 billion per month, every month, going forward.
· Sanctions affecting petroleum product exports to Iran, which result in billions of dollars of lost revenue, will remain in effect.
· The vast majority of Iran’s approximately $100 billion in foreign exchange holdings remain inaccessible or restricted by our sanctions.
· Other significant parts of our sanctions regime remain intact, including:
o Sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran and approximately two dozen other major Iranian banks and financial actors;
o Secondary sanctions, pursuant to the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) as amended and other laws, on banks that do business with U.S.-designated individuals and entities;
o Sanctions on those who provide a broad range of other financial services to Iran, such as many types of insurance; and,
o Restricted access to the U.S. financial system.
· All sanctions on over 600 individuals and entities targeted for supporting Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile program remain in effect.
· Sanctions on several sectors of Iran’s economy, including shipping and shipbuilding, remain in effect.
· Sanctions on long-term investment in and provision of technical services to Iran’s energy sector remain in effect.
· Sanctions on Iran’s military program remain in effect.
· Broad U.S. restrictions on trade with Iran remain in effect, depriving Iran of access to virtually all dealings with the world’s biggest economy
· All UN Security Council sanctions remain in effect.
· All of our targeted sanctions related to Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, its destabilizing role in the Syrian conflict, and its abysmal human rights record, among other concerns, remain in effect.
A Comprehensive Solution
During the six-month initial phase, the P5+1 will negotiate the contours of a comprehensive solution. Thus far, the outline of the general parameters of the comprehensive solution envisions concrete steps to give the international community confidence that Iran’s nuclear activities will be exclusively peaceful. With respect to this comprehensive resolution: nothing is agreed to with respect to a comprehensive solution until everything is agreed to. Over the next six months, we will determine whether there is a solution that gives us sufficient confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. If Iran cannot address our concerns, we are prepared to increase sanctions and pressure.
In sum, this first step achieves a great deal in its own right. Without this phased agreement, Iran could start spinning thousands of additional centrifuges. It could install and spin next-generation centrifuges that will reduce its breakout times. It could fuel and commission the Arak heavy water reactor. It could grow its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to beyond the threshold for a bomb’s worth of uranium. Iran can do none of these things under the conditions of the first step understanding.
Furthermore, without this phased approach, the international sanctions coalition would begin to fray because Iran would make the case to the world that it was serious about a diplomatic solution and we were not. We would be unable to bring partners along to do the crucial work of enforcing our sanctions. With this first step, we stop and begin to roll back Iran’s program and give Iran a sharp choice: fulfill its commitments and negotiate in good faith to a final deal, or the entire international community will respond with even more isolation and pressure.
The American people prefer a peaceful and enduring resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and strengthens the global non-proliferation regime. This solution has the potential to achieve that. Through strong and principled diplomacy, the United States of America will do its part for greater peace, security, and cooperation among nations.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on November 23, 2013
Source: WH, 11-23-13
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Today, the United States — together with our close allies and partners — took an important first step toward a comprehensive solution that addresses our concerns with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program.
Since I took office, I’ve made clear my determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. As I’ve said many times, my strong preference is to resolve this issue peacefully, and we’ve extended the hand of diplomacy. Yet for many years, Iran has been unwilling to meet its obligations to the international community. So my administration worked with Congress, the United Nations Security Council and countries around the world to impose unprecedented sanctions on the Iranian government.
These sanctions have had a substantial impact on the Iranian economy, and with the election of a new Iranian President earlier this year, an opening for diplomacy emerged. I spoke personally with President Rouhani of Iran earlier this fall. Secretary Kerry has met multiple times with Iran’s Foreign Minister. And we have pursued intensive diplomacy — bilaterally with the Iranians, and together with our P5-plus-1 partners — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, as well as the European Union.
Today, that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure — a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.
While today’s announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal. For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back. Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment and neutralizing part of its stockpiles. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges, which are used for enriching uranium. Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited. Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor. And new inspections will provide extensive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments.
These are substantial limitations which will help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Simply put, they cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb. Meanwhile, this first step will create time and space over the next six months for more negotiations to fully address our comprehensive concerns about the Iranian program. And because of this agreement, Iran cannot use negotiations as cover to advance its program.
On our side, the United States and our friends and allies have agreed to provide Iran with modest relief, while continuing to apply our toughest sanctions. We will refrain from imposing new sanctions, and we will allow the Iranian government access to a portion of the revenue that they have been denied through sanctions. But the broader architecture of sanctions will remain in place and we will continue to enforce them vigorously. And if Iran does not fully meet its commitments during this six-month phase, we will turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure.
Over the next six months, we will work to negotiate a comprehensive solution. We approach these negotiations with a basic understanding: Iran, like any nation, should be able to access peaceful nuclear energy. But because of its record of violating its obligations, Iran must accept strict limitations on its nuclear program that make it impossible to develop a nuclear weapon.
In these negotiations, nothing will be agreed to unless everything is agreed to. The burden is on Iran to prove to the world that its nuclear program will be exclusively for peaceful purposes.
If Iran seizes this opportunity, the Iranian people will benefit from rejoining the international community, and we can begin to chip away at the mistrust between our two nations. This would provide Iran with a dignified path to forge a new beginning with the wider world based on mutual respect. If, on the other hand, Iran refuses, it will face growing pressure and isolation.
Over the last few years, Congress has been a key partner in imposing sanctions on the Iranian government, and that bipartisan effort made possible the progress that was achieved today. Going forward, we will continue to work closely with Congress. However, now is not the time to move forward on new sanctions -– because doing so would derail this promising first step, alienate us from our allies and risk unraveling the coalition that enabled our sanctions to be enforced in the first place.
That international unity is on display today. The world is united in support of our determination to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Iran must know that security and prosperity will never come through the pursuit of nuclear weapons — it must be reached through fully verifiable agreements that make Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons impossible.
As we go forward, the resolve of the United States will remain firm, as will our commitments to our friends and allies –- particularly Israel and our Gulf partners, who have good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions.
Ultimately, only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I have a profound responsibility to try to resolve our differences peacefully, rather than rush towards conflict. Today, we have a real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, peaceful settlement, and I believe we must test it.
The first step that we’ve taken today marks the most significant and tangible progress that we’ve made with Iran since I took office. And now we must use the months ahead to pursue a lasting and comprehensive settlement that would resolve an issue that has threatened our security — and the security of our allies — for decades. It won’t be easy, and huge challenges remain ahead. But through strong and principled diplomacy, the United States of America will do our part on behalf of a world of greater peace, security, and cooperation among nations.
Thank you very much.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on November 23, 2013
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 29, 2013
Source: WH, 9-24-13
New York, New York
10:10 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: Each year we come together to reaffirm the founding vision of this institution. For most of recorded history, individual aspirations were subject to the whims of tyrants and empires. Divisions of race and religion and tribe were settled through the sword and the clash of armies. The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable.
It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking. The leaders who built the United Nations were not naïve; they did not think this body could eradicate all wars. But in the wake of millions dead and continents in rubble, and with the development of nuclear weapons that could annihilate a planet, they understood that humanity could not survive the course it was on. And so they gave us this institution, believing that it could allow us to resolve conflicts, enforce rules of behavior, and build habits of cooperation that would grow stronger over time.
For decades, the United Nations has in fact made a difference — from helping to eradicate disease, to educating children, to brokering peace. But like every generation of leaders, we face new and profound challenges, and this body continues to be tested. The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.
For much of my tenure as President, some of our most urgent challenges have revolved around an increasingly integrated global economy, and our efforts to recover from the worst economic crisis of our lifetime. Now, five years after the global economy collapsed, and thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized, and people are once again being lifted out of poverty. But this progress is fragile and unequal, and we still have work to do together to assure that our citizens can access the opportunities that they need to thrive in the 21st century.
Together, we’ve also worked to end a decade of war. Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harm’s way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world. Today, all of our troops have left Iraq. Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.
For the United States, these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war footing. Beyond bringing our troops home, we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties. We’re transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law, while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.
As a result of this work, and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago. But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates that dangers remain. In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall, and our hearts go out to the families of those who have been affected. In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church. In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a terrible part of life. And meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which doesn’t give them the capacity at this point to carry out attacks like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments and diplomats, businesses and civilians all across the globe.
Just as significantly, the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended and people grapple with what comes next. Peaceful movements have too often been answered by violence — from those resisting change and from extremists trying to hijack change. Sectarian conflict has reemerged. And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction continues to cast a shadow over the pursuit of peace.
Nowhere have we seen these trends converge more powerfully than in Syria. There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter. In the face of such carnage, many retreated to their sectarian identity — Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd — and the situation spiraled into civil war.
The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge. Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced. A peace process is stillborn. America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis. Assad’s traditional allies have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime. And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.
Now, the crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront. How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa — conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them? How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war? What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct? What is the role of the United Nations and international law in meeting cries for justice?
Today, I want to outline where the United States of America stands on these issues. With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons. When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly. I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and in the interest of the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the United Nations itself. The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity. It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocating in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.
The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods. It’s an insult to human reason — and to the legitimacy of this institution — to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.
Now, I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council. But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all. However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue. And in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them.
The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles. Now there must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so. If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws. On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.
Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria. I do not believe that military action — by those within Syria, or by external powers — can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria; that is for the Syrian people to decide. Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country. The notion that Syria can somehow return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy.
It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome that they fear: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate. In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears and concerns of Alawites and other minorities.
We are committed to working this political track. And as we pursue a settlement, let’s remember this is not a zero-sum endeavor. We’re no longer in a Cold War. There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the wellbeing of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring that it does not become a safe haven for terrorists.
I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war. And as we move the Geneva process forward, I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and surrounding countries. America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort, and today I can announce that we will be providing an additional $340 million. No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to rebuild their country, but it can help desperate people to survive.
What broader conclusions can be drawn from America’s policy toward Syria? I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of American resolve in the region. Others have suggested that my willingness to direct even limited military strikes to deter the further use of chemical weapons shows we’ve learned nothing from Iraq, and that America continues to seek control over the Middle East for our own purposes. In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades: the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.
I realize some of this is inevitable, given America’s role in the world. But these contradictory attitudes have a practical impact on the American people’s support for our involvement in the region, and allow leaders in the region — as well as the international community sometimes — to avoid addressing difficult problems themselves.
So let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency.
The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.
We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.
We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.
We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when it’s necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attack, we will take direct action.
And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime.
Now, to say that these are America’s core interests is not to say that they are our only interests. We deeply believe it is in our interests to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous, and will continue to promote democracy and human rights and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity. But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action, particularly through military action. Iraq shows us that democracy cannot simply be imposed by force. Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community and with the countries and peoples of the region.
So what does this mean going forward? In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.
The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly — or through proxies — taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.
I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight — the suspicions run too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.
Since I took office, I’ve made it clear in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, although we are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.
So these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. But to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it’s the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. And this is not simply an issue between the United States and Iran. The world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.
But I want to be clear we are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course. And given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.
The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential — in commerce and culture; in science and education.
We are also determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran, and that is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. I’ve made it clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state. Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible. And I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state. But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.
Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state. On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah whose ambition and incredible potential are matched by the pain they feel in having no firm place in the community of nations. They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and they’re frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they too recognize that two states is the only real path to peace — because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.
So the time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace. Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks. President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table. Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state. Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.
So now the rest of us must be willing to take risks as well. Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state, and we should say so clearly. Arab states, and those who supported the Palestinians, must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution and a secure Israel.
All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists throughout the region, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future. And moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work. So let’s emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice. Let’s support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.
Real breakthroughs on these two issues — Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace — would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa. But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations. It must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations. And by that measure, it’s clear that all of us have a lot more work to do.
When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope. And although the United States — like others — was struck by the speed of transition, and although we did not — and in fact could not — dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change. And we did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous, and more peaceful.
Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be. Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive. The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it, too, has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy — through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press and civil society and opposition parties.
Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal of power. In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides. Our overriding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights and the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society.
That remains our interest today. And so, going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counterterrorism. We’ll continue support in areas like education that directly benefit the Egyptian people. But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a more democratic path.
And our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests. Nevertheless, we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World. We believe they are the birthright of every person. And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited, although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and although we will at times be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency, we will be engaged in the region for the long haul. For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.
And this includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Bahrain and Syria. We understand such longstanding issues cannot be solved by outsiders; they must be addressed by Muslim communities themselves. But we’ve seen grinding conflicts come to an end before — most recently in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants finally recognized that an endless cycle of conflict was causing both communities to fall behind a fast-moving world. And so we believe those same sectarian conflicts can be overcome in the Middle East and North Africa.
To summarize, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion. Indeed, as recent debates within the United States over Syria clearly show, the danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war — rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world — may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.
I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. But I also believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional — in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.
I must be honest, though. We’re far more likely to invest our energy in those countries that want to work with us, that invest in their people instead of a corrupt few; that embrace a vision of society where everyone can contribute — men and women, Shia or Sunni, Muslim, Christian or Jew. Because from Europe to Asia, from Africa to the Americas, nations that have persevered on a democratic path have emerged more prosperous, more peaceful, and more invested in upholding our common security and our common humanity. And I believe that the same will hold true for the Arab world.
This leads me to a final point. There will be times when the breakdown of societies is so great, the violence against civilians so substantial that the international community will be called upon to act. This will require new thinking and some very tough choices. While the United Nations was designed to prevent wars between states, increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states. And these challenges will grow more pronounced as we are confronted with states that are fragile or failing — places where horrendous violence can put innocent men, women and children at risk, with no hope of protection from their national institutions.
I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect basic human rights. But we cannot and should not bear that burden alone. In Mali, we supported both the French intervention that successfully pushed back al Qaeda, and the African forces who are keeping the peace. In Eastern Africa, we are working with partners to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army to an end. And in Libya, when the Security Council provided a mandate to protect civilians, America joined a coalition that took action. Because of what we did there, countless lives were saved, and a tyrant could not kill his way back to power.
I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson. They point to the problems that the country now confronts — a democratically elected government struggling to provide security; armed groups, in some places extremists, ruling parts of a fractured land. And so these critics argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail — look at Libya. No one is more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens — a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi. But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better if Qaddafi had been allowed to kill, imprison, or brutalize his people into submission? It’s far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.
We live in a world of imperfect choices. Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance, and the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order. But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye. While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, while we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda or Srebrenica? If that’s the world that people want to live in, they should say so and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.
But I believe we can embrace a different future. And if we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better — all of us — at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order. Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals. Through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules. Through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, not merely its aftermath. Through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized. And yes, sometimes — although this will not be enough — there are going to be moments where the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occurring.
Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks — one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution and where we all take responsibility. A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully, and prevent the kinds of wars that our forefathers fought. A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs, whether they live in New York or Nairobi; in Peshawar or Damascus.
These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary opportunities. Thanks to human progress, a child born anywhere on Earth today can do things today that 60 years ago would have been out of reach for the mass of humanity. I saw this in Africa, where nations moving beyond conflict are now poised to take off. And America is with them, partnering to feed the hungry and care for the sick, and to bring power to places off the grid.
I see it across the Pacific region, where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation. I see it in the faces of young people everywhere who can access the entire world with the click of a button, and who are eager to join the cause of eradicating extreme poverty, and combating climate change, starting businesses, expanding freedom, and leaving behind the old ideological battles of the past. That’s what’s happening in Asia and Africa. It’s happening in Europe and across the Americas. That’s the future that the people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve as well — one where they can focus on opportunity, instead of whether they’ll be killed or repressed because of who they are or what they believe.
Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change — to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history. Last month, I stood where 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream, at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for President. Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world. Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring? Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?
I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on. We’re ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges with you — firm in the belief that all men and women are in fact created equal, each individual possessed with a dignity and inalienable rights that cannot be denied. That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope. And that’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous and just world to the next generation.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
10:52 A.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 24, 2013
Source: ABC News Radio, 3-20-13
Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images
Seeking to reassure the United States’ primary ally in the Middle East, President Obama Wednesday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his administration remains committed to doing “what is necessary” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“We do not have a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Obama told reporters at a joint press conference after a series of closed-door meetings with Israeli leaders….READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 20, 2013
Source: Mitt Romney Press, 9-27-12
Mitt Romney today released the following statement on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations:
“I join in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for a Middle East of progress and peace. And I join his urgent call to prevent the gravest threat to that vision—a nuclear-armed Iran. I, like the rest of the American people, applaud the bravery of the people of Israel and stand with them in these dangerous times. The designs of the Iranian regime are a threat to America, Israel, and our friends and allies around the world.”
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 27, 2012
Source: MSNBC, 9-16-12
MR. DAVID GREGORY: This morning, a special hour of MEET THE PRESS. Turmoil in the Middle East creates a flashpoint on the campaign trail. Set off by an American anti-Islamic video, rage against the U.S. sweeps the Arab world. And an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya kills ambassador Chris Stephens and three others.
HILLARY CLINTON: The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob.
GREGORY: But in this highly-charged campaign environment new questions about how the Obama administration should respond enter the political debate.
MR. MITT ROMNEY: The administration was wrong to stand by statements sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions.
GREGORY: This morning we’ll talk to a key member of the president’s foreign policy team–the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.
Also, this morning, an exclusive network interview with a key player in the Middle East–the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Has relations between his country and the U.S. have at a new low over the looming nuclear threat from Iran?
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Those in the international community that refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.
GREGORY: Sorting out U.S. options in the Middle East, consequences for the region, and the political impact in November–our political roundtable. Joining us, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, Democratic Representative from Minnesota Keith Ellison; the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, New York Republican congressman Peter King; Author of the new book, The Price of Politics, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward; the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg; and NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
GREGORY: And good morning. Relative calm this morning in the Middle East after several days of intense anti-American protests raged across many parts of the Islamic world. But word this morning that the Obama administration has ordered the evacuation of all but emergency personnel from diplomatic missions in Tunisia and Sudan. And defense secretary Leon Panetta saying this morning, the Pentagon has deployed forces to several areas in an increased effort to protect U.S. personnel and property from the potential of violent protests, the latest consequences, of course, of this troubling unrest. Joining me now for the very latest, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MS. SUSAN RICE (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): Thank you, good to be here.
GREGORY: The images as you well know are jarring to Americans watching all of this play out this week, and we’ll share the map of all of this turmoil with our viewers to show the scale of it across not just the Arab world, but the entire Islamic world and flashpoints as well. In Egypt, of course, the protests outside the U.S. embassy there that Egyptian officials were slow to put down. This weekend in Pakistan, protests as well there. More anti-American rage. Also protests against the drone strikes. In Yemen, you also had arrests and some deaths outside of our U.S. embassy there. How much longer can Americans expect to see these troubling images and these protests go forward?
MS. RICE: Well, David, we can’t predict with any certainty. But let’s remember what has transpired over the last several days. This is a response to a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Obviously, our view is that there is absolutely no excuse for violence and that– what has happened is condemnable, but this is a– a spontaneous reaction to a video, and it’s not dissimilar but, perhaps, on a slightly larger scale than what we have seen in the past with The Satanic Verses with the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Now, the United States has made very clear and the president has been very plain that our top priority is the protection of American personnel in our facilities and bringing to justice those who…
GREGORY: All right.
MS. RICE: …attacked our facility in Benghazi.
GREGORY: Well, let’s talk– talk about– well, you talked about this as spontaneous. Can you say definitively that the attacks on– on our consulate in Libya that killed ambassador Stevens and others there security personnel, that was spontaneous, was it a planned attack? Was there a terrorist element to it?
MS. RICE: Well, let us– let me tell you the– the best information we have at present. First of all, there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing. And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. But putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of– of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video. What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post revolutionary Libya. And it escalated into a much more violent episode. Obviously, that’s– that’s our best judgment now. We’ll await the results of the investigation. And the president has been very clear–we’ll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
GREGORY: Was there a failure here that this administration is responsible for, whether it’s an intelligence failure, a failure to see this coming, or a failure to adequately protect U.S. embassies and installations from a spontaneous kind of reaction like this?
MS. RICE: David, I don’t think so. First of all we had no actionable intelligence to suggest that– that any attack on our facility in Benghazi was imminent. In Cairo, we did have indications that there was the risk that the video might spark some– some protests and our embassy, in fact, acted accordingly, and had called upon the Egyptian authorities to– to reinforce our facility. What we have seen as– with respect to the security response, obviously we had security personnel in Benghazi, a– a significant number, and tragically, among those four that were killed were two of our security personnel. But what happened, obviously, overwhelmed the security we had in place which is why the president ordered additional reinforcements to Tripoli and– and why elsewhere in the world we have been working with governments to ensure they take up their obligations to protect us and we reinforce where necessary.
GREGORY: The president and the secretary of state have talked about a mob mentality. That’s my words, not their words, but they talked about the– the tyranny of mobs operating in this part of the world. Here’s the reality, if you look at foreign aid–U.S. direct foreign aid to the two countries involved here, in Libya and Egypt, this is what you’d see: two hundred million since 2011 to Libya, over a billion a year to Egypt and yet Americans are seeing these kinds of protests and attacks on our own diplomats. Would– what do you say to members of congress who are now weighing whether to suspend our aid to these countries if this is the response that America gets?
MS. RICE: Well, first of all, David, let’s put this in perspective. As I said, this is a response to a– a very offensive video. It’s not the first time that American facilities have come under attack in the Middle East, going back to 1982 in– in Beirut, going back to the Khobar Towers in– in Saudi Arabia, or even the attack on our embassy in 2008 in Yemen.
GREGORY: Or Iran in 1979.
MS. RICE: This has– this has happened in the past, but there– and so I don’t think that– that we should misunderstand what this is. The reason we provide aid in Egypt and in Libya is because it serves American interests because the relationships…
GREGORY: But– but our Americans are not being served if this is the response.
MS. RICE: It serves our interests to have Egypt willing and able to– to maintain its peace treaty with Israel, it servers our interest for Egypt to continue to be a strong partner. Now, let’s be clear, the government, once President Obama called President Morsi, immediately in Egypt the security forces came out and have provided very significant protection. Same in Tunisia, same in Libya, same in Yemen. And all of these leaders have very forcefully conveyed their condemnation of what has transpired.
GREGORY: But there were conflicting messages from the Morsi government. In Arabic they encourage protests, in English they said stop the protests. This from an ally that we give over a billion dollars?
MS. RICE: What has happened in fact is that the Egyptian government has come out and protected our facilities. Our embassy is open today, things are calm. And Morsi has repeatedly been clear in his condemnation of– of what has occurred. We– we are in these partnerships, David, over the long-term. We think that– that– despite this very bumpy path we’re on and the very disturbing images we’ve seen, it’s in the United States fundamental interest that people have the ability to choose their own governments, that the governments be democratic and free. That’s in our long-term best interest.
GREGORY: You know that this…
MS. RICE: We need to reinforce that with our assistance.
GREGORY: We are in the middle of a heated presidential campaign, there are different foreign policy visions. That’s why we wanted to dedicate the hour to this today to really understand these different views. Mitt Romney spoke out this week, he criticized the administration, talked about whether the United States was apologizing for some of the initial response to this. These were his comments this week.
MR. MITT ROMNEY: The administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions. I think it’s a– a– a terrible course to– for America to– to stand in apology for our values.
GREGORY: Our embassies did not stand up for speech– free speech in this initial response to this violence. And the Republican charge is that it’s weakness on the part of this administration that invites this kind of chaos, that the administration has not been tough enough on radical extremists that are beginning to take root in these countries. How do you respond to that?
MS. RICE: First of all, I think the American people and certainly our diplomats and– and development experts who are putting their lives on the line around the world every day expect from our leadership unity in times of challenge and strong, steady, steadfast leadership of the sort that President Obama has been providing. With respect to this, I think, vacuous charge of weakness, let’s– lets recall, I think, the American people fully understand that this is an administration led by a president who said when he ran for office that he would take the fight to al Qaeda. We have decimated al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden is dead. He said we would end the war responsibly in Iraq. We’ve done that. He has restored relationships around the world. I spend every day up at the United Nations where I have to interact with 192 other countries. I know how well the United States is viewed. I know that our standing is much improved and it’s translated into important support for strong American positions, for example with sanctions against Iran.
GREGORY: Was it inappropriate for Governor Romney to level the criticism he leveled?
MS. RICE: I’m not going to get into politics, David. That’s not my role in this job. But I think the American people welcome and appreciate strong, steady, unified leadership, bipartisan in times of challenge. And for those men and women in our diplomatic service, including those we tragically lost, they look to our leadership to be unified and responsible.
GREGORY: Let’s talk about another area where the administration is on the defensive in terms of leadership in the world, and that is the nuclear threat from Iran. Another area of tension between the United States and Israel. In just a couple of minutes we will show our interview with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. And our viewers will see that. One aspect is how close Iran is getting to becoming a nuclear power. I asked him about that. I want to show you a piece of the interview and get your reaction to it.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (Prime Minister of Israel): I can tell you, David, that Iran has been placed with some clear red lines on a few matters, and they have avoided crossing them. So I think that as they get closer and closer and closer to the achievement of the weapons-grade material, and they’re very close, they’re six months away from being about 90 percent of having the enriched uranium for an atom bomb, I think that you have to place that red line before them now, before it’s– it’s too late.
GREGORY: As the prime minister of Israel, has Iran crossed your red line?
MR. NETANYAHU: Well, the way I would say it, David, is they are in the red zone. You know, they are in the last 20 yards. And you can’t let them cross that goal line. You can’t let them score a touchdown, because that would have unbelievable consequences, grievous consequences, for the peace and security of us all– of the world really.
GREGORY: What is President Obama’s line in the sand, the point at which he says to Iran don’t cross this with your nuclear program or there’s going to be a military consequence?
MS. RICE: David, the president has been very, very clear. Our bottom line, if you want to call it a red line, president’s bottom line has been that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon and we will take no option off the table to ensure that it does not acquire a nuclear weapon, including the military option.
GREGORY: The prime minister says…
MS. RICE: But…
GREGORY: …they are acquiring.
MS. RICE: …he’s talking about a– a red zone which is a new concept…
GREGORY: No, no, but he’s talking about how close they are to actually becoming a nuclear power–having to develop a capacity to become a nuclear power.
MS. RICE: They’re not there yet. They are not there yet. And our assessment is, and– and we share this regularly with our Israeli counterparts in the intelligence and defense community, that there is time and space for the pressure we are mounting, which is unprecedented in terms of sanctions, to still yield results. This is not imminent. The window is not infinite, but let’s be clear–the sanctions that– that are now in place reached their high point in July. The– the Iranian economy is suffering. It’s shrinking for the first time. Negative one percent growth. The amount of production of Iranian oil has dropped 40 percent over the last several months. Their currency has plummeted 40 percent over the last several months. This pressure is even to use the Iranian’s own words crippling.
GREGORY: But can you say…
MS. RICE: And we think…
GREGORY: …that President Obama’s strategy to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon almost at the end of his first term is succeeding or failing?
MS. RICE: David, what is clear is Iran does not have a nuclear weapon. And that Iran is more isolated than ever internationally. The economic pressure it is facing is much greater than ever. When President Obama came to office the international community was divided about Iran. And Iran was internally very united. The exact opposite is the case today. The international community is united. We just had another strong resolution out of the IAEA Board of Governors. And the internal dynamics in Iran are– are fracturing and the leadership is divided. We are committed and President Obama is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. It is not a policy of containment. But, David, the most difficult and profound decision that any president has to make is the decision to go to war. And this president is committed to exhausting pressure, economic pressure, and diplomacy while there is– is still time before making a decision of such consequence.
GREGORY: Ambassador Rice, the debate continues. Thank you very much…
MS. RICE: Thank you.
GREGORY: …for your views this morning.
Now to this looming nuclear threat from Iran from the Israeli perspective. There were new tensions between the Obama administration in Israel this week. Earlier, I spoke with the prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu about where things stand and whether he is trying to influence the outcome of our presidential campaign.
Prime Minister, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you. Good to be with you, David.
GREGORY: I want to talk specifically before we get to the questions of what’s happening more broadly in the Middle East and the turmoil there this week about the threat from Iran. You spoke about that this week, and this question of whether Israel has to take matters into its own hands. And you launched pretty pointed criticism at the United States. I want to play a portion of what you said.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: The world tells Israel, wait. There’s still time. And I say, wait for what? Wait until when? Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.
GREGORY: Prime Minister, I want to understand very clearly what your views are. Is it your view that the Obama administration is either unwilling or unable to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Now first of all, President Obama and the U.S. administration have repeatedly said that Israel has the right to act by itself against any threat to defend itself. And I think that that remains our position. And for me, the issue is– as the prime minister of a country that is threatened with annihilation by a regime that is racing a brutal regime in Tehran that is racing to develop nuclear bombs for that and, obviously, we– we cannot delegate the job of stopping Iran if all else fails to someone else. That was the main point that I was saying there. It was directed at the general international community. A lot of leaders calling me telling me don’t do it, it’s not necessary. You know, the danger of acting is much greater than not acting. And I always say the danger of not acting in time is much greater because Iran with nuclear weapons would mean that the kind of fanaticism that you see storming your embassies would have a nuclear weapon. Don’t let these fanatics have nuclear weapons.
GREGORY: But Prime Minister, let’s be clear. You were upset with this administration. The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said in an interview that there were no deadlines by this administration in terms of what Iran should or shouldn’t do by a date certain. That’s what led to those remarks. And so my question still stands. Is it your view that this administration is either unwilling or unable to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: No. President Obama has said that he’s determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and I appreciate that and I respect that. I think implicit in that is that if you’re determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, it means you’ll act before they get nuclear weapons. I just think that it’s important to communicate to Iran that there is a line that they won’t cross. I think a red line in this case works to reduce the chances of the need for military action because once the Iranians understand that there’s no– there’s a line that they can’t cross, they are not likely to cross it, you know, when President Kennedy set a red line in the Cuban missile crisis, he was criticized. But it turned out it didn’t bring war, it actually pushed war back and probably purchased decades of peace with the Soviet Union. Conversely, when there was no American red line set before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and maybe that war could have been avoided. And I can tell you David that Iran has been placed with some clear red lines on a few matters and they have avoided crossing them. So I think that as they get closer and closer and closer to the achievement of weapons grade material, and they are very close, they are six months away from being about ninety percent of having the enriched uranium for an atom bomb, I think that you have to place that red line before them now before it’s– it’s too late. That was the point that I was making.
GREGORY: As a prime minister of Israel, has Iran crossed your red line?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, the way I would say it David is they are in the red zone. You know, they are in the last 20 yards. And you can’t let them cross that goal line. You can’t let them score a touchdown because that would have unbelievable consequences, grievous consequences, for the peace and security of us all– of the world really.
GREGORY: That seems to be a newer development from your way of thinking that they are now in a red zone. And to use– to use the sports metaphor, you won’t let them cross the– the goal line. Is Israel closer to taking action into its own hands?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We always reserve the right to act. But I think that if we are able to coordinate together a common position, we increase the chances that neither one of us will have to act. Iran is very cognizant of the fact of its degrees of freedom and as the IAEA report says not only have they not stopped, they have actually rushed forward– they’re rushing forward with their enrichment program. And I think it’s very important to make it clear to them that they can’t just proceed with impunity.
GREGORY: Your criticism, your calling on President Obama to set this red line, comes in the middle of a heated presidential campaign. You understand the American political system very well. You’re very sophisticated in that regard. In your view, would Governor Mitt Romney as President Romney make Israel safer? Would he take a harder line against Iran than President Obama in your judgment?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: God, I’m– I’m not going to be drawn into the American election. And– and what’s guiding my statements are– is not the American political calendar but the Iranian nuclear calendar. They’re just– you know, if they stop spinning the centrifuges for– and took timeout for the American elections, I wouldn’t have to talk. And I wouldn’t have to raise this issue. But as the prime minister of Israel, knowing that this country committed to our destruction is getting closer to the goal of having weapons of mass destruction then I speak out. And it’s got– it’s really not a partisan political issue. And I think it’s important for anyone who is the president of the United States to be in that position of preventing Iran from having this nuclear weapons– nuclear weapons capability. And I’m talking to the president. I just talked to him the other day. We are in close consultations. We’re trying to prevent that. It’s really not a partisan issue. It’s a policy issue not a political issue.
GREGORY: Well, but it may not be a partisan issue. You have known Mitt Romney a long time. The reality is– tell me if you disagree that Governor Romney just in an interview this week said that his position is very much the same as President Obama. They are both committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Not just as an impartial observer, as the prime minister of Israel, do you agree with that that both the president and his challenger have the same view with regard to preventing Iran from going nuclear?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I have no doubt that they are equally committed to preventing that. It’s a– it’s a vital American interest. It’s a– it’s an existential interest on my case so, this isn’t the issue. We are united on this across the board.
GREGORY: Why can’t Iran be contained just as the Soviet Union was? There are those in your country and in the United States who believe that a containment strategy would actually work?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think Iran is very different. They put their zealotry above their survival. They have suicide bombers all over the place. I wouldn’t rely on their rationality, you know, you– since the advent of nuclear weapons, you had countries that had access to nuclear weapons who always made a careful calculation of cost and benefit. But Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism. It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons? I mean, I’ve heard some people suggest, David, I actually I read this in the American press. They said, well, you know, if you take action, that’s– that’s a lot worse than having Iran with nuclear weapons. Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East– stabilize the Middle East. I– I think the people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity. We have to stop them. Don’t rely on containment. That is not the American policy. It would be wrong. It would be a grave, grave mistake. Don’t let these fanatics have nuclear weapons. It’s terrible for Israel and it’s terrible for America. It’s terrible for the world.
GREGORY: Prime Minister, one more question on the American election. You have been accused this week by pundits in this country of trying to interfere in this presidential election, siding with Governor Mitt Romney. Now, Governor Romney for a year, and he said it in his convention speech, has said, quote, “President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.” Do you agree or disagree with Governor Romney’s charge? It’s a serious charge.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, you’re– you’re trying to get me into the– into the American election and I’m not going to do that. The relationship between Israel and the United States is a bond of– it’s just a very powerful bond. It was, it is, and will be and will continue to be. And I– I can tell you there’s no one– there’s no leader in the world who’s more appreciative than me of the strength of this alliance. It’s very strong. There’s no one in Israel who appreciates more than me the importance of American support for Israel. It’s not a partisan issue. In fact, we cherish the bipartisan support of Democrats and Republicans alike. This is critical for us.
GREGORY: But prime minister, with respect, if I may just interrupt you…
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: And– and I think it’s critical that we take…
GREGORY: I think this is a very important point because you say you don’t want to interfere in the election. There are tens of millions of Americans who are watching that speech, who hear that rhetoric, who hear that charge, who may not understand the complexities of this issue. You are the leader of the Jewish people. You say this is not a partisan issue. You get billions of dollars from direct foreign investment from this country, hundreds of millions of dollars from Americans, Jews and Christians alike from this country. It seems to me for you to remain silent on whether this administration has thrown Israel under the bus is tantamount to agreeing with the sentiment. So where do you come down on that specific charge against President Obama?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Now, there you go again, David, you’re trying to draw me into something that– that is simply not– not the case and it’s not my position. My position is that we– we have strong cooperation. We’ll continue to cooperate. We’re the best of allies. And Israel is the one reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East…
GREGORY: So President Obama has not thrown Israel under the bus?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: …if that wasn’t understood until yesterday. So it’s– it’s– there’s– there’s no bus, and we’re not going to get into that discussion, except to say one thing. We have a strong alliance and we’re going to continue to have a strong alliance. I think the important question is where does the– the only bus that is really important is the Iranian nuclear bus. That’s the one that we have to– to derail. And that’s my interest. That’s my– my only interest.
GREGORY: Final question on the broader Middle East and what we’re seeing this week. This anti-American and indeed anti-Israeli rage throughout the Middle East attacking our embassy, killing a United States ambassador as you well know. What has been unleashed and what can United States and its allies specifically do to contain it?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, look, I– I– I think people focus on the spark. The spark of reprehensible and irresponsible film is a– is a spark, but it’s not– it doesn’t explain anything. I mean, it doesn’t explain 9/11. It doesn’t explain the decades of animosity and the grievances that go back centuries. In fact, there’s a tinderbox of hatred here from a virulent strain of Islam that takes moderate Muslims and Arabs and attacks them first but seeks to deprive all of us of the basic– the basic values that we have. They’re against the human rights. They’re against the rights of women. They’re against freedom of religion. They’re against freedom of speech and freedom of expression. They’re against all the things that we value. They’re against tolerance. They’re against– they’re against pluralism, and they’re against freedom. And they’re– they’re– they view not your policies but you, the very existence of United States and its values, and by extension Israel. They view that as an intolerable crime. And we have to understand that. We have to deal with it. And we have to be the close support because in– in this vast expanse of land, you can understand why they are so– so antagonistic to us because for them we are you and you are us. And at least on this point they’re right.
GREGORY: Finally, prime minister, did you feel snubbed not getting a face-to-face meeting with President Obama in New York during the upcoming U.N. meetings? Would you like to have that face-to-face encounter? Would it be helpful to your relationship at this point?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: You know, I’m always pleased and– and happy to have a conversation with President Obama. He’s– I think he’s met me more than any other leader in the world and I– I appreciate that. We’ve had our discussions. Our– our schedules on this visit didn’t work out. I come to New York and he leaves New York. But we continue in close consultations. We have urgent business, Israel and America, to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I think it’s important to delineate a red line for Iran so we’re not faced with a conundrum of what to do if we don’t place a red line and they just proceed to the bomb.
GREGORY: Prime minister, thank you very much for your time.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you, to all of you.
GREGORY: Coming up next, our political roundtable on the political impact of this turmoil in the Middle East. Is it a case of weakness on the part of this administration? Did Governor Romney go too far in that criticism? Our political roundtable is here and we’ll weigh in. Democratic congressman from Minnesota, Keith Ellison; Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Peter King of New York; The Washington Post’s, Bob Woodward; Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine; and our own Andrea Mitchell.
GREGORY: Coming up our political roundtable. Was this week that 3:00 AM phone call moment for Romney? What is his response to the turmoil in the Middle East say about his readiness to be president? Our roundtable weighs in up next after this brief break.
GREGORY: And we’re back with our political roundtable. Joining me national correspondent for The Atlantic, a journalist who’d spent his career covering the Middle East, Jeff Goldberg; NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell; associate editor for The Washington Post and author of the new groundbreaking book The Price of Politics, Bob Woodward; Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York; and the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison. Welcome to all of you. These are very difficult times for this country and for the Middle East. There’s a question I think that Americans have of what is going on here. Why is this happening? And it’s happening, Jeff Goldberg, in a heated presidential debate. And so you have accusations and response, and we’ve seen that play out already in the course of this hour. Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, launched a very serious attack that indeed Governor Romney amplified on. And she wrote in the Wall Street Journal–I want to show it to our viewers and get discussion about it here. In too many parts of the world, she writes, America is no longer viewed as a reliable ally or an enemy to be feared… Nor do our adversaries any longer fear us. Ask the mobs in Cairo who attacked our embassy or the Libyan mobs who killed our diplomats at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Ask the Iranians who make unhindered daily progress towards obtaining a nuclear weapon.
MR. JEFF GOLDBERG (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Well, I mean, a couple of quick points. The first is, you know, to be fair, 9/11 happened during the Bush administration, the Bush-Cheney administration. So it’s not as if people– Muslim radicals feared the United States during that period, not when they were killing thousands of American troops in Iraq certainly. I mean, the larger point is that– that, you know, there’s a tendency, especially seven weeks out from an election, to turn this in– turn everything that happens in the world into an election issue. There are some very, very deep and troubling things going on in– in the Middle East that have very little to do with what a president does or doesn’t do. I mean, let’s– let’s be fair about this. You– you– you have a complete upheaval in the Middle East. You don’t have American policymakers being able to shape the way Muslims think about the world, about modernity, about the United States. So– so to blame the president for– for an attack on– on these embassies, I think, is a bit much.
REP. PETER KING (R-NY/Chairman, Committee on Homeland Security): Yeah.
GREGORY: …as a Republican here, supporter of Governor Romney…
REP. KING: Yes.
GREGORY: …is this American weakness that brought this on? Is that the Republican view? Is that what the view of President Romney would be?
REP. KING: Well, my view is it was a large component of it. There has been– this president’s policy– President Obama’s policy has been confusing. It’s been apologetic, and it’s been misguided. From the day he started his apology tour back in 2009 where he was, no matter what people say, apologizing for America, somehow suggesting that we’ve been anti-Islam until he became the president throughout– the fact that– even talking about Iraq, the way he took our troops out of Iraq without even getting the status of forces agreement. He was given a glide path in Iraq. And yet he pulled the troops out, brags about the fact that troops are out, gives a definite date for getting out in Afghanistan. What he is doing by that is telling our allies they can’t trust us and he’s also telling unaligned that the U.S. is not a reliable ally. And the fact that you would have the prime minister of Israel on this show explaining his relationship with the president of the United States at a time of such turmoil in the Middle East, we have never had a situation like this where there has been such a disconnect between the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister. And the fact that he won’t even meet with him at the U.N., while he’s going to meet with President Morsi, sends terrible signals.
GREGORY: Well, to– to be fair, the prime minister of Israel did not describe that as a stub– snub in that interview.
REP. KING: I’m saying it. I’m saying, I’m saying.
GREGORY: You’re saying, okay. Congressman, your response?
REP. KEITH ELLISON (D-MN): Well, it’s ridiculous. The president has been consistent. He’s been steady. And he’s had progress in the policy wins in the Middle East. I mean, this is a seriously deeply rooted phenomenon, the Arab Spring that is going to be unfolding for a long time. And the last thing we need is to start making quick emo– emotionally-charged decisions. We need consistent steady leadership like the president has shown.
GREGORY: But there is a policy component, Andrea and Bob, to this. The New York Times writes about it in an analysis piece this morning. I want to put a portion of that on the screen because it does provide some context here. The upheaval over an anti-Islam video has suddenly become Mr. Obama’s most serious foreign policy crisis of the election season and a range of analysts say it presents questions about central tenets of his Middle East policy: Did he do enough during the Arab Spring to help the transition to democracy from autocracy? Has he drawn a hard enough line against Islamic extremists? Did his administration fail to address security concerns?
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL (Host, “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS”): Well, first of all, I think we have to exce– concede that George Herbert Walker Bush’s relationship with the then prime minister of Israel was arguably much worse than what we’re seeing now. So, Republicans as well as Democrats have had difficulty, Congressman, in the past with Israel. That..,
REP. KING: It’s always the post-9/11 world.
MS. MITCHELL: ..but that said…
REP. KING: There’s never been a relationship like this.
MS. MITCHELL: …that said. I think there can be a legitimate criticism that this president has not handled the Israeli-Palestinian issue well, but the Arab Spring has been a much greater, much broader troubling issue that arguably not any American president could handle very effectively. That is not the argument. That is not the policy argument that– that Mitt Romney has made. Mitt Romney’s– the criticism of Mitt Romney is coming largely from many Republicans whom I talked to, foreign policy experts, who say that in the middle of the crisis when the state department did not know where Ambassador Stevens was, when the body was missing, that he came out with a written statement and doubled down on it the next morning and that it was not presidential, it did not show leadership. That is the criticism…
REP. KING: When he put out the statement, he didn’t know that the ambassador had been shot.
MS. MITCHELL: But then he shouldn’t have put out a statement, you know, the argue…
REP. KING: Well, first up– that’s exactly the problem. Entire project– I mean, if you don’t know something, how can you– I mean, it’s not (Unintelligible).
MS. MITCHELL: But silence is often a good choice. Peggy Noonan said that as well.
REP. ELLISON: What about waiting until you know more? I mean, what about Reagan? Reagan said, you know, when we have a crisis like this, we should all come together as Americans and not sort of– divide up politically and try to seek a– a point.
REP. KING: You know, sometimes wait…
REP. ELLISON: That was in– that was a– that was a sad moment.
REP. KING: President Obama waited three days after the underwear bomber before he made a statement, and then he came out and said, this was a sole individual…
GREGORY: All right, let me get Bob to weigh in.
REP. KING: …al Qaeda operation.
MR. BOB WOODWARD (Associate Editor, Washington Post): There’s a way to look at this neutrally, and I– I just don’t think the charge of weakness will stick. I mean, Obama’s been tough on these things. Let’s be realistic. The extremists in the Middle East who are causing all of this trouble are extremists. And no Republican, no Democratic president is going to be able to control them. The question is, what’s the policy and what’s the response? And you deal in the intelligence world and you ask the experts about this and they’ll say you never know. Ten people are going to come together and take over an embassy, shoot someone and so forth. So the idea that government can– has the puppet strings here is- is just–
GREGORY: But couldn’t we’ve done well with– well, but let’s get– gentleman, let’s get to the point. Where…
MR. GOLDBERG: Yeah.
GREGORY: Where are the extremists who are– who are protesting about the fact that Muslims are being killed in Syria every day, as you don’t see those protests? Is this about the United States or is it about them?
MR. GOLDBERG: It’s about everything. I mean, the truth is it’s about everything. It’s unfolding. It’ll be unfolding for a generation. And you’re right. I mean, you don’t see– you don’t see that level of anxiety directed at Syria. Hundred– in the last week, hundreds of Syrian Muslims have been killed by the Syrian regime. And you don’t see Syrian embassies being attacked. Obviously– obviously– obviously, if you’re– you know, we talked so much about the Arab street, how the Arab street feels about America. We– we have to start talking about the American street too, because this is going to have consequences for these governments that we support. You know, we Americans see these countries that are– that we provide billions of dollars who’re not protecting our embassies, and they’re eventually going to say, the American people can say enough already with this.
REP. ELLISON: This is a good time to realize that the so-called Arab street is not one monolithic thing. You have some people in, say, Libya, for example, who are pro– holding up signs, apologizing for what happened to Chris Stevens.
GREGORY: Right. We have some of them. Yeah.
REP. ELLISON: Yeah. And– and– and, we– we need to understand that this is not– everybody’s not on the same side. You have some radicals who want to push back. Some con– some of– some loyalists from the old regime, some extremists, who want to exploit the situation, and you have people who want a Democratic society. They’re both contesting for who’s going to come out and the United States should stay on their side.
REP. KING: But– but how do we appeal to the wrong people in the Middle East by somehow exalting this whole– this whole idea of the video being the cause of the– of the riot?
REP. ELLISON: It’s a spark. It’s not a cause.
REP. KING: Okay. But for us to be saying somehow putting that on the equivalence of the American policy or to say that our policy in this country can be determined by a fanatical Christian minister in the South or radical Islamist mobs in the Middle East, then I think, the president can do more.
MS. MITCHELL: I– I agree with that.
REP. KING: The president should be dealing with the–
GREGORY: But, Congressman, is it responsible for Mitt Romney to say that a President Romney could have stopped this from happening?
REP. KING: I think it’s responsible for him to say that he would set a policy which would not be as confusing as this one. Why (Unintelligible) with President Morsi? Why didn’t the next day the president even mention President Morsi? He come out to not say a word about the fact that our supposed ally–he doesn’t even know if he’s an ally or not–was getting a billion dollars not to defend our embassy in Cairo. The president did not mention that.
REP. ELLISON: But when the president called– but when the president called, Morsi listened.
REP. KING: But for the single (cross talk) said nothing about it…
REP. ELLISON: And I– and I wouldn’t…
REP. KING: No, everyone is being critical of Mitt Romney.
GREGORY: Okay, good.
REP. KING: President Obama made his statement, he did not even mention the failure of leadership in Egypt.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, Congressman, you’re absolutely correct. I think that it is easy for the administration to try to point to the film. There is a much broader issue, as Jeffrey and– and Bob has– have been pointing to. The world is changing and it is changing too rapidly for any American leadership to figure out what to do. There is going to be a big argument over foreign aid, you know that. And whether or not that is even a sensible argument is another question. They have a big problem with Morsi. Morsi needs economic aid. He has, I’ve been told, reached out to the New York economic club. He wants to give a speech here in 10 days. He knows he needs the IMF. He knows he needs the United States. But he’s trying at the same time to placate the radical elements in the brotherhood.
GREGORY: Let me…
MR. WOODWARD: But– but the core problem is there’re angry people out there. And you can’t identify them. And the– the idea that you’re going to have a government policy to deal with angry people in a– in a way that will suppress them just is not going to happen.
GREGORY: Let me get a break in here– let me get a break in here. We’ll come back with the roundtable. More on this, the political impact right in the middle of the campaign. More with our roundtable right after this.
GREGORY: We’re back with our roundtable. Some context here–look at this polling from CNN/ORC–better at handling foreign policy, a big advantage for President Obama as we go into these presidential debates. Jeffrey Goldberg?
MR. GOLDBERG: You know, I– I was troubled by something that Susan Rice said before, which is talking about how people are offended by this movie and sort of apologizing for this– this film. I think there’s a– there’s a perpetual grievance machine working in the Middle East. Bob– Bob points this out. People will be angry no matter what. And– and at a certain point, I think the administration should just say, look, we have free speech in America. It is part of our value system. You know, opp– opposition to blasphemy is part of your value system and we respect that as long as you do it peacefully, but we have free speech in our country and we’re going to stand up for our liberal western values.
MR. KING: Suppose tomorrow with Salman Rushdie, we going to back down on that also, yeah.
MR. GOLDBERG: No. Exactly. You want to be– you want to stand very strongly. And you want to also support liberal thought in the Middle East and that means engaging with– you have to remember most Muslims in the Middle East aren’t attacking American embassies, many want to be– have more liberal open society.
GREGORY: Congressman Ellison, is our only leverage in the United States money and foreign aid?
REP. ELLISON: Absolutely not. We have a lot of influence in terms of culture, in terms of just the way America is a democratic society. We should use that. They, as a matter of fact, all the protests we saw were for people reaching for a greater level of democracy. But foreign aid is a part of it. And I think that for us to threaten to snatch aid now is dangerous and a bad idea.
GREGORY: Andrea Mitchell, the question of Iran as well, I want to get reaction to the prime minister. He said something among the significant things, there– they have an equal commitment, he said, Mitt Romney and President Obama, to prevent Iran from going nuclear. That is not the wedge that Governor Romney has been arguing. He has said, “You re-elect President Obama they go nuclear, you elect me they do not.”
MS. MITCHELL: And yet Mitt Romney himself misspoke apparently in another interview saying that he agrees with President Obama on what that imaginary red line is. I thought it was very interesting that Prime Minister Netanyahu said they are in a red zone. The football analogy, yes. But he was trying to smooth over the differences. But there are very real differences. Real differences in that while President Obama has made a commitment to stop them from weaponizing, from getting a– from going nuclear, they believe somehow in this notion that they will have the intelligence, they will know when the Ayatollah makes a political decision, and they will still have the time. And arguably in the past, we’ve learned that intelligence is not that precise.
MR. WOODWARD: There is so much turns on the intelligence. It was this interesting your discussion with the Israeli Prime Minister, and he said, well, at six months and they’ll have 90 percent. And the Ambassador Rice said, well, it’s not imminent that they’re going to get the bomb. If you study intelligence, as I have for about 40 years, and Jeffrey and I were talking about, some day we’re going to write a book called “The Unintelligence of Intelligence” because it’s just often wrong. And people are surprised. And we’re– you know, deep, deep uncertainty about all of this– 90 percent, six months, it’s not going to happen. We don’t know.
GREGORY: What about– what about this interference in our election? You’re curious about that from both of you, because he takes on– well, I– I pressed him on that charge.
MR. GOLDBERG: Well, there’s– there’s two issues. One is a legitimate issue, which is this debate over red lines. This is the debate that Obama and Netanyahu should have, a discussion, in private. And– and that’s– that’s legitimate for– for Netanyahu to raise. What’s illegitimate, and– and let me put this as– as bluntly as I can. I’ve been watching the relationship between the U.S. and Israel for 20 years, more than 20 years, very seriously and I’ve never seen an Israeli prime minister mismanage the relationship with the United States or with the administration the way this prime minister has. Obama is not blameless. The first year, the peace process was a disaster. But, you know, one– one person here is the– one person here is the senior partner, one is the– the junior partner, and Netanyahu has turned this into a story about himself and Obama.
REP. KING: No, I– I disagree. I’m– I’m not here to criticize our president. The fact is in 2009 when he went to the Middle East and suggested a moral equivalency between the Iranians and the Israelis, when he was harping on against the Israelis, the fact is the Israeli government does not trust the American government. And that’s really the issue. Not when the red line is going to be or where it’s going to be. The fact is there was not a trust between the Israeli prime minister and the American President. And this is a President who’d come in saying he was going to restore harmony among nations, he was going to have better relationship with our overseas allies…
MS. MITCHELL: But…
REP. KING: …and adversaries.
GREGORY: Are you double down on the comment that this President has thrown Israel under the bus?
REP. KING: He has not shown– yes, I will. In the context of politics, yes, he has, absolutely.
REP. ELLISON: That’s– that’s absolutely wrong.
REP. KING: He absolutely has.
REP. ELLISON: There’s no evidence to that.
REP. KING: The way…
GREGORY: What does that mean in the context of politics, it’s either true or it’s not.
REP. KING: It– it is true.
REP. ELLISON: It’s not true.
REP. KING: It is true. Let me tell you why it’s true. You had an Israeli prime minister being– when he went to the White House being put off to eat by himself, being ignored by the president. You have the president refusing to sit down with him at the U.N. This is an ally.
REP. ELLISON: Well…
REP. KING: He’s not going to treat Morsi this way.
REP. ELLISON: According to…
REP. KING: He’s not going to treat the Arab League this way.
REP. ELLISON: According to…
REP. KING: To treat an ally like that is, yeah, like putting him under the bus.
GREGORY: All right. Go ahead, Congressman.
REP. ELLISON: —military leaders the security relationship is as good as it ever has been.
REP. KING: We’re talking about diplomatic relationship.
GREGORY: Hold on, let him…
REP. ELLISON: And– and– no, no, no. And so– and so the point is this is a sad reality where we are putting Israel as a political football in an election, it should not be done.
REP. KING: The president…
REP. ELLISON: And– and as a matter of fact, I think that the– that the president– President Netanyahu (sic) ought to be a little bit more careful (cross talk) himself.
GREGORY: Andrea, and I really– in ten seconds, what do you look for this week as we move beyond, as this conversation moves?
MS. MITCHELL: I think there are more security challenges. You’ve got embassies shut down. The marines are going to be more engaged in various places. This is a crisis. And it could rebound against President Obama.
GREGORY: All right. Before we go and take a break, I wanted to let you know that you can catch more of Bob Woodward in our take two web extra, which will be posted on our press pass blog this afternoon. We’re going to talk in depth about his new book, The Price of Politics. You can read an excerpt on our– of the book on our website as well, that’s meetthepressnbc.com. We’ll be back with more in just a moment.
GREGORY: Before we go this morning, a couple of programming notes. You can watch this week’s press pass conversation on our blog as well, a lot going on on the blog. Some straight talk from the much talked about duo themselves. Simpson-Bowles, Former Senator Alan Simpson, former White House chief of staff for President Clinton Erskine Bowles, that’s at meetthepressnbc.com.
Also Thursday on ROCK CENTER WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS, Ted Koppel goes toe-to-toe with the lives of Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and Bill Maher for a provocative new look at the role of openly partisan media and at the role it’s playing in our society. That’s on ROCK CENTER Thursday at 10:00 P.M. Eastern, 9:00 Central.
That is all for us today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS. And as we leave you, we remember the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans that were lost this week in the attack on our consulate in Libya. Our thoughts and prayers of course are with their families.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 16, 2012
Source: WH, 6-18-12
President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at the Esperanza Resort in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico, June 18, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
This afternoon, President Obama had his first face-to-face meeting with his Russian counterpart — President Vladimir Putin — since the other leader was inaugurated in May.
After meeting for two hours, the men spoke briefly to reporters.
President Obama described the conversation as “candid, thoughtful and thorough.” He said:
Over the last three years, the United States and Russia have been able to make significant progress on a wide range of issues, including the New START Treaty, the 1,2,3 Agreement, the work we’ve done on Russia’s accession to the WTO, and setting up a presidential process whereby issues of trade and commerce, science, technology are all discussed at a much more intensive level.
We agreed that we need to build on these successes, even as we recognize that there are going to be areas of disagreement, and that we can find constructive ways to manage through any bilateral tensions.
The leaders also put out a joint statement that touched on many of these issues in further detail.
The United States of America and the Russian Federation confirm our commitment to strengthening close and cooperative relations for the benefit of the peoples of our countries, international peace, global prosperity, and security. In recent years, we have laid a solid foundation for expanding our bilateral interaction in a variety of areas. Today we agree to continue this work guided by the principles of the rule of law, respect for human rights, equality, and mutual respect.
One of the key tasks on our shared agenda is the expansion of trade and investment relations, which should foster mutual economic growth and prosperity. To this end, we have agreed to prioritize the expansion and diversification of our bilateral trade and investment through nondiscriminatory access to our markets based on international rules.
An important step in this direction is Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), which has become possible thanks to our joint efforts. In order for WTO rules and mechanisms to apply to our bilateral trade, the Obama Administration is working closely with the U.S. Congress to terminate, as soon as possible, application of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment with respect to Russia and extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations to the Russian Federation. The United States has also welcomed and offered its support to Russia’s pursuit of membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Nuclear arms control and non-proliferation remain a special responsibility for the United States and Russia as the two states with the world’s largest nuclear weapons arsenals. We reiterate our strong support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and our shared goal of universal adherence to and compliance with that Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s comprehensive safeguards, consistent with the Treaty’s Article III, and with the Additional Protocol. We recognize the achievements made through the Nuclear Security Summits, including the removal and elimination of nuclear materials, minimization of the civilian use of highly enriched uranium, and worldwide improvements in a nuclear security culture.
We are continuing research on the feasibility of converting research reactors in the United States and Russia to low-enriched uranium fuel. We agree to redouble bilateral efforts to improve nuclear security, counter nuclear smuggling, and combat nuclear terrorism, as well as to facilitate the beginning of negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament on a fissile material cutoff treaty that will halt production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices, within the framework of a balanced program of work at the Conference. We will strive for the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.
As a priority, we intend to successfully implement the New START Treaty, and to continue our discussions on strategic stability. Despite differences in assessments, we have agreed to continue a joint search for solutions to challenges in the field of missile defense.
The pursuit of international peace and security remains a priority for the United States and Russia, recognizing how much we have to gain by working together to overcome the main challenges of this century. While recognizing Iran’s right to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, we agree that Iran must undertake serious efforts aimed at restoring international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program. To this end, Tehran must fully comply with its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions, and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency for the expedited resolution of all remaining issues. Our common goal remains a comprehensive negotiated settlement based on the principles of a step-by-step approach and reciprocity, and we look forward to constructive engagement with Iran through the P5+1 process, including the latest round of talks taking place in Moscow on June 18-19.
We urge North Korea to come into compliance with all the relevant directives of the UN Security Council and fulfill its commitments under the Joint Statement by China, the DPRK, the Republic of Korea, Russia, the U.S., and Japan of September 19, 2005. We count on the DPRK not to commit acts that would escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula. As partners in the Six-Party talks, we are prepared to continue the joint efforts to achieve verifiable denuclearization on the Korean peninsula in accordance with the Joint Statement of September 19, 2005.
We agree to cooperate bilaterally and multilaterally to solve regional conflicts. In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of all violence and express full support for the efforts of UN/League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, including moving forward on political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity. We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future.
The need for a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East has never been more apparent, and we will continue working with our Quartet partners to advance peace efforts on the basis of the Quartet statements of September 23, 2011, and April 11, 2012, and to strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s ability to meet the full range of civil and security needs of the Palestinian people, both now and in a future state.
The United States and Russia continue to face a common threat from al Qaeda and other terrorist groups operating in and around Afghanistan. We recognize that this is a pivotal time for international efforts to strengthen security and promote economic development in Afghanistan, as well as to counter the narcotics threat. With the successful implementation of bilateral and multilateral transit arrangements, Russia has made a significant contribution to international efforts to promote stability in Afghanistan.
We reiterate that the process leading to reconciliation must be truly Afghan-led and Afghan-implemented. Reconciliation must include, as integral parts, a commitment to a sovereign, stable, and unified Afghanistan, breaking ties to al Qaeda, ending violence, and accepting the Afghan Constitution, including its human rights provisions, notably the rights of women. We will explore opportunities to strengthen the Northern Distribution Network, to bolster regional security, and to expand cooperation as we fight terrorism and narcotics trafficking, taking advantage of the capabilities of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the NATO-Russia Council to enhance law-enforcement training for the region.
The United States of America and the Russian Federation intend to increase cooperation in addressing the world drug problem, so as to radically reduce production and consumption of illicit drugs, as affirmed by resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. We are ready to continue active support of efforts undertaken by the international community to counteract illicit production and illegal trafficking and consumption of drugs.
The United States of America and the Russian Federation are committed to furthering our multifaceted cooperation to counter terrorism. Both our nations face persistent and evolving domestic and transnational terrorist threats, including from terrorists based in North Africa, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Acknowledging the global character of these challenges, we reaffirm our readiness for further joint work to implement the UN’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy, the UN Security Council resolutions and statements on terrorism, as well as to utilize other applicable international counterterrorism instruments, including counterterrorism sanctions regimes introduced by the UN Security Council with respect to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The United States and Russia affirm our intent to work together to ensure the long-term success of the recently launched Global Counterterrorism Forum and continue to interact on various multilateral platforms, including the G-8 Roma/Lyon Group, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). We will continue to work together to counter financial support for terrorism, disrupt the possible connections between terrorist networks and criminal groups, prevent the spread of violent extremism, and improve transportation security, including by concluding bilateral agreements in this field.
An important role in strengthening U.S.-Russian relations belongs to the Presidential Commission, created in July 2009, which coordinates our bilateral cooperation on the widest range of issues from strategic stability, energy and space, fighting terrorism and illegal drug trafficking and consumption– to public health, agriculture, the environment, civil society, and cultural and educational exchanges. We are pleased to announce a new Working Group on Military-Technical Cooperation. U.S.-Russian cooperation has been growing in the global fight against malaria.
This year we together celebrate the 200th anniversary of Fort Ross in California, which was founded by Russian settlers and underscores the historic ties between our countries. In order to give our bilateral relations a new quality, we intend to pay special attention to broadening contacts between our peoples and societies, including by liberalizing the visa regime. We welcome steps to bring into force the U.S.-Russian Agreement on Simplifying Visa Formalities, signed in 2011, which should make two-way travel by American and Russian tourist and business travelers easier. We also commit to work together to ensure the rights and protections of adopted children. This will be facilitated by bringing into force and implementing the bilateral adoptions agreement signed last year.
The United States of America and the Russian Federation will only be able to achieve positive new results by acting together for the purpose of strengthening the democracy, security, and prosperity of the American and Russian peoples, and by solving other complex challenges confronting our countries and the international community.
Los Cabos, Mexico
12:42 P.M. MDT
PRESIDENT PUTIN: (As interpreted.) Mr. President, this has been our second meeting. I remember our lengthy meeting we had in Moscow.
Today we had a very meaningful and subject-oriented discussion. We’ve been able to discuss issues pertaining to security. We discussed bilateral economic relations. In this regard, I’d like to thank you for the support rendered to Russia with our accession to the World Trade Organization. I’m confident this will help to further develop the economic relations between our two countries, to promote the creation of jobs in both countries.
We also discussed international affairs, including the Syrian affair. From my perspective, we’ve been able to find many commonalities pertaining to all of those issues. And we’ll now further develop our contacts both on a personal level and on the level of our experts involved.
You visited the Russian Federation three years ago. Now welcome again. I invite you to visit Moscow.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
We, in fact, did have a candid, thoughtful and thorough conversation on a whole range of bilateral and international issues. Over the last three years, the United States and Russia have been able to make significant progress on a wide range of issues, including the New START Treaty, the 1,2,3 Agreement, the work we’ve done on Russia’s accession to the WTO, and setting up a presidential process whereby issues of trade and commerce, science, technology are all discussed at a much more intensive level.
We agreed that we need to build on these successes, even as we recognize that there are going to be areas of disagreement, and that we can find constructive ways to manage through any bilateral tensions. In particular, we discussed the need to expand trade and commercial ties between the United States and Russia, which are still far below where they should be. And I emphasized my priority of having Congress repeal Jackson-Vanik, provide permanent trade relations status to Russia so that American businesses can take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities now that Russia is a member of the WTO.
We discussed a range of strategic issues, including missile defense, and resolved to continue to work through some of the difficult problems involved there.
I thanked the President and the Russian people for the work they’ve done with us on the Northern Distribution Network that is vital to providing supplies and resources to our brave troops who are still in Afghanistan.
We emphasized our shared approach when it comes to the Iranian situation as members of the P5+1. We agreed that there’s still time and space to resolve diplomatically the issue of Iran’s potential development of nuclear weapons, as well as its interest in developing peaceful nuclear power.
And finally, as Mr. President mentioned, we discussed Syria, where we agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war, and the kind of horrific events that we’ve seen over the last several weeks, and we pledged to work with other international actors including the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and all the interested parties in trying to find a resolution to this problem.
Mr. President, I look forward to visiting Russia again, and I look forward to hosting you in the United States.
Thank you, everybody.
12:53 P.M. MDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 18, 2012
Source: WH, 3-26-12
Seoul, Republic of Korea
10:32 A.M. KST
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. (Applause.) Please, thank you very much.
To President Park, faculty, staff and students, thank you so much for this very warm welcome. It is a great honor to be here at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. (Applause.) I want to thank Dr. Park for, a few moments ago, making me an honorary alumni of the university. (Applause.)
I know that this school has one of the world’s finest foreign language programs — which means that your English is much better than my Korean. (Laughter.) All I can say is, kamsa hamnida. (Applause.)
Now, this is my third visit to the Republic of Korea as President. I’ve now been to Seoul more times than any other capital — except for Washington, D.C., of course. This reflects the extraordinary bonds between our two countries and our commitment to each other. I’m pleased that we’re joined by so many leaders here today, Koreans and Americans, who help keep us free and strong and prosperous every day. That includes our first Korean-American ambassador to the Republic of Korea — Ambassador Sung Kim. (Applause.)
I’ve seen the deep connections between our peoples in my own life — among friends, colleagues. I’ve seen it so many patriotic Korean Americans, including a man born in this city of Seoul, who came to America and has dedicated his life to lifting up the poor and sick of the world. And last week I was proud to nominate him to lead the World Bank — Dr. Jim Yong Kim. (Applause.)
I’ve also seen the bonds in our men and women in uniform, like the American and Korean troops I visited yesterday along the DMZ — Freedom’s Frontier. And we salute their service and are very grateful for them. We honor all those who have given their lives in our defense, including the 46 brave souls who perished aboard the Cheonan two years ago today. And in their memory we reaffirm the enduring promise at the core of our alliance — we stand together, and the commitment of the United States to the defense and the security of the Republic of Korea will never waver. (Applause.)
Most of all, I see the strength of our alliance in all of you. For decades, this school has produced leaders — public servants, diplomats, businesspeople — who’ve helped propel the modern miracle that is Korea– transforming it from crushing poverty to one of the world’s most dynamic economies; from authoritarianism to a thriving democracy; from a country focused inward to a leader for security and prosperity not only in this region but also around the world — a truly “Global Korea.”
So to all the students here today, this is the Korea your generation will inherit. And I believe there’s no limits to what our two nations can achieve together. For like your parents and grandparents before you, you know that the future is what we make of it. And you know that in our digital age, we can connect and innovate across borders like never before — with your smart phones and Twitter and Me2Day and Kakao Talk. (Laughter and applause.) It’s no wonder so many people around the world have caught the Korean Wave, Hallyu. (Applause.)
Or consider this: In advance of my visit, our embassy invited Koreans to send us your questions using social media. Some of you may have sent questions. And they called it, “Ask President Obama.” Now, one of you — maybe it was you, maybe it was somebody else — this is true — asked this question: “Have you posted, yourself, a supportive opinion on a website under a disguised name, pretending you are one of the supporters of President Obama?” (Laughter.) I hadn’t thought of this. (Laughter.) But the truth is I have not done this. Maybe my daughters have. (Laughter.) But I haven’t done that myself.
So our shared future — and the unprecedented opportunity to meet shared challenges together — is what brings me to Seoul. Over the next two days, under President Lee’s leadership, we’ll move ahead with the urgent work of preventing nuclear terrorism by securing the world’s nuclear materials. This is an important part of the broader, comprehensive agenda that I want to talk with you about today — our vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
Three years ago, I traveled to Prague and I declared America’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and to seeking a world without them. I said I knew that this goal would not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime, but I knew we had to begin, with concrete steps. And in your generation, I see the spirit we need in this endeavor — an optimism that beats in the hearts of so many young people around the world. It’s that refusal to accept the world as it is, the imagination to see the world as it ought to be, and the courage to turn that vision into reality. So today, with you, I want to take stock of our journey and chart our next steps.
Here in Seoul, more than 50 nations will mark our progress toward the goal we set at the summit I hosted two years ago in Washington — securing the world’s vulnerable nuclear materials in four years so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists. And since then, nations — including the United States — have boosted security at nuclear facilities.
South Korea, Japan, Pakistan and others are building new centers to improve nuclear security and training. Nations like Kazakhstan have moved nuclear materials to more secure locations. Mexico, and just yesterday Ukraine, have joined the ranks of nations that have removed all the highly enriched uranium from their territory. All told, thousands of pounds of nuclear material have been removed from vulnerable sites around the world. This was deadly material that is now secure and can now never be used against a city like Seoul.
We’re also using every tool at our disposal to break up black markets and nuclear material. Countries like Georgia and Moldova have seized highly enriched uranium from smugglers. And countries like Jordan are building their own counter-smuggling teams, and we’re tying them together in a global network of intelligence and law enforcement. Nearly 20 nations have now ratified the treaties and international partnerships that are at the center of our efforts. And I should add that with the death of Osama bin Laden and the major blows that we’ve struck against al Qaeda, a terrorist organization that has actively sought nuclear weapons is now on the path to defeat.
So in short, the international community has made it harder than ever for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons, and that has made us all safer. We’re building an international architecture that can ensure nuclear safety. But we’re under no illusions. We know that nuclear material, enough for many weapons, is still being stored without adequate protection. And we know that terrorists and criminal gangs are still trying to get their hands on it — as well as radioactive material for a dirty bomb. We know that just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill hundreds of thousands and spark a global crisis. The danger of nuclear terrorism remains one of the greatest threats to global security.
And that’s why here in Seoul, we need to keep at it. And I believe we will. We’re expecting dozens of nations to announce over the next several days that they’ve fulfilled the promises they made two years ago. And we’re now expecting more commitments — tangible, concrete action — to secure nuclear materials and, in some cases, remove them completely. This is the serious, sustained global effort that we need, and it’s an example of more nations bearing the responsibility and the costs of meeting global challenges. This is how the international community should work in the 21st century. And Korea is one of the key leaders in this process.
The United States will continue to do our part — securing our own material and helping others protect theirs. We’re moving forward with Russia to eliminate enough plutonium for about 17,000 nuclear weapons and turn it instead into electricity. I can announce today a new agreement by the United States and several European partners toward sustaining the supply of medical isotopes that are used to treat cancer and heart disease without the use of highly enriched uranium. And we will work with industry and hospitals and research centers in the United States and around the world, to recover thousands of unneeded radiological materials so that they can never do us harm.
Now, American leadership has been essential to progress in a second area — taking concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons. As a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, this is our obligation, and it’s one that I take very seriously. But I believe the United States has a unique responsibility to act — indeed, we have a moral obligation. I say this as President of the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons. I say it as a Commander-in-Chief who knows that our nuclear codes are never far from my side. Most of all, I say it as a father, who wants my two young daughters to grow up in a world where everything they know and love can’t be instantly wiped out.
Over the past three years, we’ve made important progress. With Russia, we’re now reducing our arsenal under the New START Treaty — the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly 20 years. And when we’re done, we will have cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.
As President, I changed our nuclear posture to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy. I made it clear that the United States will not develop new nuclear warheads. And we will not pursue new military missions for nuclear weapons. We’ve narrowed the range of contingencies under which we would ever use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. At the same time, I’ve made it clear that so long as nuclear weapons exist, we’ll work with our Congress to maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal that guarantees the defense not only of the United States but also our allies — including South Korea and Japan.
My administration’s nuclear posture recognizes that the massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited to today’s threats, including nuclear terrorism. So last summer, I directed my national security team to conduct a comprehensive study of our nuclear forces. That study is still underway. But even as we have more work to do, we can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need. Even after New START, the United States will still have more than 1,500 deployed nuclear weapons, and some 5,000 warheads.
I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal.
Going forward, we’ll continue to seek discussions with Russia on a step we have never taken before — reducing not only our strategic nuclear warheads, but also tactical weapons and warheads in reserve. I look forward to discussing this agenda with President Putin when we will meet in May. Missile defense will be on the agenda, but I believe this should be an area of cooperation, not tension. And I’m confident that, working together, we can continue to make progress and reduce our nuclear stockpiles. Of course, we’ll consult closely with our allies every step of the way, because the security and defense of our allies, both in Europe and Asia, is not negotiable.
Here in Asia, we’ve urged China — with its growing nuclear arsenal — to join us in a dialogue on nuclear issues. That offer remains open. And more broadly, my administration will continue to pursue ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And after years of delay, it’s time to find a path forward on a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons — ends it once and for all.
By working to meet our responsibilities as a nuclear power, we’ve made progress in a third area — strengthening the global regime that prevents the spread of nuclear weapons. When I came into office, the cornerstone of the world’s effort — which is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — was fraying. Iran had started spinning thousands of centrifuges. North Korea conducted another nuclear test. And the international community was largely divided on how to respond.
Over the past three years, we have begun to reverse that dynamic. Working with others, we’ve enhanced the global partnership that prevent proliferation. The International Atomic Energy Agency is now conducting the strongest inspections ever. And we’ve upheld the basic bargain of the NPT: Countries with nuclear weapons, like the United States and Russia, will move towards disarmament; countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can have access to peaceful nuclear energy.
Because of these efforts, the international community is more united and nations that attempt to flout their obligations are more isolated. Of course, that includes North Korea.
Here in Korea, I want to speak directly to the leaders in Pyongyang. The United States has no hostile intent toward your country. We are committed to peace. And we are prepared to take steps to improve relations, which is why we have offered nutritional aid to North Korean mothers and children.
But by now it should be clear, your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek; they have undermined it. Instead of the dignity you desire, you’re more isolated. Instead of earning the respect of the world, you’ve been met with strong sanctions and condemnation. You can continue down the road you are on, but we know where that leads. It leads to more of the same — more broken dreams, more isolation, ever more distance between the people of North Korea and the dignity and the opportunity that they deserve.
And know this: There will be no rewards for provocations. Those days are over. To the leaders of Pyongyang I say, this is the choice before you. This is the decision that you must make. Today we say, Pyongyang, have the courage to pursue peace and give a better life to the people of North Korea. (Applause.)
This same principle applies with respect to Iran. Under the NPT, Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear energy. In fact, time and again the international community — including the United States — has offered to help Iran develop nuclear energy peacefully. But time and again Iran has refused, instead taking the path of denial, deceit and deception. And that is why Iran also stands alone, as the only member of the NPT unable to convince the international community that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes — the only member. That’s why the world has imposed unprecedented sanctions, slowing Iran’s nuclear program.
The international community is now poised to enter talks with Iran’s leaders. Once again, there is the possibility of a diplomatic resolution that gives Iran access to peaceful nuclear energy while addressing the concerns of the international community. Today, I’ll meet with the leaders of Russia and China as we work to achieve a resolution in which Iran fulfills its obligations.
There is time to solve this diplomatically. It is always my preference to solve these issues diplomatically. But time is short. Iran’s leaders must understand they, too, face a choice. Iran must act with the seriousness and sense of urgency that this moment demands. Iran must meet its obligations.
For the global response to Iran and North Korea’s intransigence, a new international norm is emerging: Treaties are binding; rules will be enforced; and violations will have consequences. We refuse to consign ourselves to a future where more and more regimes possess the world’s most deadly weapons.
And this brings me to the final area where we’ve made progress — a renewed commitment to harnessing the power of the atom not for war, but for peaceful purposes. After the tragedy at Fukushima, it was right and appropriate that nations moved to improve the safety and security of nuclear facilities. We’re doing so in the United States. It’s taking place all across the world.
As we do, let’s never forget the astonishing benefits that nuclear technology has brought to our lives. Nuclear technology helps make our food safe. It prevents disease in the developing world. It’s the high-tech medicine that treats cancer and finds new cures. And, of course, it’s the energy — the clean energy that helps cut the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. Here in South Korea, as you know, as a leader in nuclear energy, you’ve shown the progress and prosperity that can be achieved when nations embrace peaceful nuclear energy and reject the development of nuclear arms.
And with rising oil prices and a warming climate, nuclear energy will only become more important. That’s why, in the United States, we’ve restarted our nuclear industry as part of a comprehensive strategy to develop every energy source. We supported the first new nuclear power plant in three decades. We’re investing in innovative technologies so we can build the next generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants. And we’re training the next generation of scientists and engineers who are going to unlock new technologies to carry us forward.
One of the great challenges they’ll face and that your generation will face is the fuel cycle itself in producing nuclear energy. We all know the problem: The very process that gives us nuclear energy can also put nations and terrorists within the reach of nuclear weapons. We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.
And that’s why we’re creating new fuel banks, to help countries realize the energy they seek without increasing the nuclear dangers that we fear. That’s why I’ve called for a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation. We need an international commitment to unlocking the fuel cycle of the future. In the United States we’re investing in the research and development of new fuel cycles so that dangerous materials can’t be stolen or diverted. And today I urge nations to join us in seeking a future where we harness the awesome power of the atom to build and not to destroy.
In this sense, we see how the efforts I’ve described today reinforce each other. When we enhance nuclear security, we’re in a stronger position to harness safe, clean nuclear energy. When we develop new, safer approaches to nuclear energy, we reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism and proliferation. When nations, including my own, fulfill our responsibilities, it strengthens our ability to ensure that other nations fulfill their responsibilities. And step by step, we come closer to the security and peace of a world without nuclear weapons.
I know that there are those who deride our vision. There are those who say ours is an impossible goal that will be forever out of reach. But to anyone who doubts the great progress that is possible, I tell them, come to Korea. Come to this country, which rose from the ashes of war — (applause) — a country that rose from the ashes of war, turning rubble into gleaming cities. Stand where I stood yesterday, along a border that is the world’s clearest contrast between a country committed to progress, a country committed to its people, and a country that leaves its own citizens to starve.
Come to this great university, where a new generation is taking its place in the world — (applause) — helping to create opportunities that your parents and grandparents could only imagine. Come and see some of the courageous individuals who join us today — men and women, young and old, born in the North, but who left all they knew behind and risked their lives to find freedom and opportunity here in the South. In your life stories we see the truth — Koreans are one people. And if just given the chance, if given their freedom, Koreans in the North are capable of great progress as well. (Applause.)
Looking out across the DMZ yesterday, but also looking into your eyes today, I’m reminded of another country’s experience that speaks to the change that is possible in our world. After a terrible war, a proud people was divided. Across a fortified border, armies massed, ready for war. For decades, it was hard to imagine a different future. But the forces of history and hopes of man could not be denied. And today, the people of Germany are whole again — united and free.
No two places follow the same path, but this much is true: The currents of history cannot be held back forever. The deep longing for freedom and dignity will not go away. (Applause.) So, too, on this divided peninsula. The day all Koreans yearn for will not come easily or without great sacrifice. But make no mistake, it will come. (Applause.) And when it does, change will unfold that once seemed impossible. And checkpoints will open and watchtowers will stand empty, and families long separated will finally be reunited. And the Korean people, at long last, will be whole and free.
Like our vision of a world without nuclear weapons, our vision of a Korea that stands as one may not be reached quickly. But from this day until then, and all the days that follow, we take comfort in knowing that the security we seek, the peace we want, is closer at hand because of the great alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea — (applause) — and because we stand for the dignity and freedom of all Koreans. (Applause.) And no matter the test, no matter the trial, we stand together. We work together. We go together. (Applause.)
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
11:03 A.M. KST
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 26, 2012
President Obama held his first news conference of the year on Tuesday. We carried the play-by-play.
Topically, it ranged over a turbulent landscape: Super Tuesday politics, saber-rattling over Iran, gasoline prices, the war in Afghanistan, the economic recovery and contraception. With so much weighty matter before him, the White House chose to use the event to highlight, of all things, some relatively narrow housing policy actions: a recent settlement with banks that will help some veterans recoup their losses on mortgage foreclosures, and a tweak to the refinancing charges on some federally insured loans….READ MORE
Source: NYT, 3-6-12
President Obama challenged his Republican critics to make a case to the American people for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities if they really believe that is the right course to follow, throwing down an election-year challenge to the men who are vying to succeed him and who say that his Iran policy has been too weak.
“This is not a game,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference at the White House timed to coincide with Super Tuesday voting in the Republican primaries in a number of crucial states. Mr. Obama gave a staunch defense of his administration’s actions to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions and said that tough sanctions put in place by the United States and Europe were starting to work and were part of the reason Iran had returned to the negotiation table.
“The one thing we have not done is we have not launched a war,” Mr. Obama said. “If some of these folks think we should launch a war, let them say so, and explain to the American people.”…READ MORE
President Barack Obama holds a press conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, March 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Now, I understand there are some political contests going on tonight, but I thought I’d start the day off by taking a few questions, which I’m sure will not be political in nature. (Laughter.) Before I do, I want to make a few announcements about some steps we’re taking to help responsible homeowners who’ve been struggling through this housing crisis.
We’ve clearly seen some positive economic news over the last few months. Businesses have created about 3.7 million new jobs over the last two years. Manufacturers are hiring for the first time since the 1990s. The auto industry is back and hiring more than 200,000 people over the last few years. Confidence is up. And the economy is getting stronger.
But there are still millions of Americans who can’t find a job. There are millions more who are having a tough time making the rent or the mortgage, paying for gas or groceries. So our job in Washington isn’t to sit back and do nothing. And it’s certainly not to stand in the way of this recovery. Right now we’ve got to do everything we can to speed it up.
Now, Congress did the right thing when they passed part of my jobs plan and prevented a tax hike on 160 million working Americans this year. And that was a good first step. But it’s not enough. They can’t just stop there and wait for the next election to come around. There are a few things they can do right now that could make a real difference in people’s lives.
This Congress should, once and for all, end tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas, and use that money to reward companies that are creating jobs here in the United States. I’ve put forward a proposal that does just that, and there’s no reason why Congress can’t come together and start acting on it.
This Congress could hold a vote on the Buffett Rule so that we don’t have billionaires paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. That’s just common sense. The vast majority of Americans believe it’s common sense. And if we’re serious about paying down our deficit, it’s as good a place to start as any.
And finally, this Congress should pass my proposal to give every responsible homeowner a chance to save an average of $3,000 a year by refinancing their mortgage at historically low rates. No red tape. No runaround from the banks. If you’ve been on time on your payments, if you’ve done the right thing, if you’ve acted responsibly, you should have a chance to save that money on your home — perhaps to build up your equity, or just to have more money in your pocket that you can spend on businesses in your community. That would make a huge difference for millions of American families.
Now, if Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them. Last fall, we announced an initiative that allows millions of responsible homeowners to refinance at low interest rates. Today we’re taking it a step further — we are cutting by more than half the refinancing fees that families pay for loans ensured by the Federal Housing Administration. That’s going to save the typical family in that situation an extra $1,000 a year, on top of the savings that they’d also receive from refinancing. That would make refinancing even more attractive to more families. It’s like another tax cut that will put more money in people’s pockets. We’re going to do this on our own. We don’t need congressional authorization to do it.
We’re also taking a series of steps to help homeowners who have served our country. It is unconscionable that members of our armed forces and their families have been some of those who have been most susceptible to losing their homes due to the actions of unscrupulous banks and mortgage lenders. Over the last few years that happened — a lot.
So as part of the landmark settlement we reached with some of the nation’s largest banks a few weeks ago, here’s what we’re going to do: If you are a member of the armed forces whose home was wrongfully foreclosed, you will be substantially compensated for what the bank did to you and your family. If you are a member of the armed forces with a high interest rate who was wrongfully denied the chance to lower it while you were in active serve, which banks are required to do by law, the banks will refund you the money you would have saved along with a significant penalty.
The settlement will make sure that you aren’t forced into foreclosure just because you have a permanent change in station but can’t sell your home because you owe more than it’s worth. Some of the money will also go into a fund that guarantees loans on favorable terms to our veterans, and there will be more foreclosure protections for every man and woman who is currently serving this country in harm’s way.
As I’ve said before, no amount of money is going to be enough to make it right for a family who has had their piece of the American Dream wrongfully taken away from them, and no action — no matter how meaningful — will entirely heal our housing market on its own. This is not something the government by itself can solve. But I’m not one of those people who believe that we should just sit by and wait for the housing market to hit bottom. There are real things that we can do right now that would make a substantial difference in the lives of innocent, responsible homeowners. That’s true in housing, and that’s true in any number of different areas when it comes to ensuring that this recovery touches as many lives as possible. That’s going to be my top priority as long as I hold this office, and I will do everything I can to make that progress.
So with that I’m going to take some questions, and I will start with Mike Viqueira.
Q Yes, sir. On the Middle East and as it relates to American politics, a little less than a year ago Moammar Qaddafi gave a speech, and he said he was going to send his forces to Benghazi, he was going to rout opponents from their bedrooms and he was going to shoot them. You frequently cited that speech as a justification for NATO, the no-fly zone and military action against Libya. In Syria, Bashar al Assad is killing people. There’s a massacre underway. And your critics here in the United States, including, most notably, John McCain, said you should start air strikes now.
And on Iran, Mitt Romney, on Sunday, went so far as to say that if you are re-elected, Iran will get a bomb and the world will change. How do you respond to those criticisms?
THE PRESIDENT: All right, Mike, you’ve asked a couple of questions there, so let me — let’s start with the Iran situation since that’s been the topic in the news for the last few days.
When I came into office, Iran was unified, on the move, had made substantial progress on its nuclear program, and the world was divided in terms of how to deal with it. What we’ve been able to do over the last three years is mobilize unprecedented, crippling sanctions on Iran. Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way. The world is unified; Iran is politically isolated.
And what I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon — because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists. And we’ve been in close consultation with all our allies, including Israel, in moving this strategy forward.
At this stage, it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That’s not just my view. That’s the view of our top intelligence officials; it’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials. And, as a consequence, we are going to continue to apply the pressure even as we provide a door for the Iranian regime to walk through where they could rejoin the community of nations by giving assurances to the international community that they’re meeting their obligations and they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.
That’s my track record. Now, what’s said on the campaign trail — those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not Commander-in-Chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.
This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.
Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war. If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.
Q That goes to Syria as well?
THE PRESIDENT: With respect to Syria, what’s happening in Syria is heartbreaking and outrageous, and what you’ve seen is the international community mobilize against the Assad regime. And it’s not a question of when Assad leaves — or if Assad leaves — it’s a question of when. He has lost the legitimacy of his people. And the actions that he’s now taking against his own people is inexcusable, and the world community has said so in a more or less unified voice.
On the other hand, for us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake. What happened in Libya was we mobilized the international community, had a U.N. Security Council mandate, had the full cooperation of the region, Arab states, and we knew that we could execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time. This is a much more complicated situation.
So what we’ve done is to work with key Arab states, key international partners — Hillary Clinton was in Tunisia — to come together and to mobilize and plan how do we support the opposition; how do we provide humanitarian assistance; how do we continue the political isolation; how do we continue the economic isolation. And we are going to continue to work on this project with other countries. And it is my belief that, ultimately, this dictator will fall, as dictators in the past have fallen.
But the notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, that hasn’t been true in the past and it won’t be true now. We’ve got to think through what we do through the lens of what’s going to be effective, but also what’s critical for U.S. security interests.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. What kind of assurances did you give Prime Minister Netanyahu about the role that the U.S. would play if diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to work to convince Iran’s leaders to change their behavior, and Israel goes ahead and prepares to strike a nuclear facility? What kind of assurances did you tell him? And shouldn’t we — I recognize the difference between debate and bluster — but shouldn’t we be having in this country a vigorous debate about what could happen in the case of a Middle East war in a way that, sadly, we did not do before going into Iraq?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think there’s no doubt that those who are suggesting, or proposing, or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be.
I’m not one of those people — because what I’ve said is, is that we have a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully. We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table. And we’ve got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out.
I’m not going to go into the details of my conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. But what I said publicly doesn’t differ greatly from what I said privately. Israel is a sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions about how best to preserve its security. And as I said over the last several days, I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any Prime Minister of Israel when they think about the potential threats to Israel and the Jewish homeland.
What I’ve also said is that because sanctions are starting to have significant effect inside of Iran — and that’s not just my assessment, that’s, I think, a uniform assessment — because the sanctions are going to be even tougher in the coming months, because they’re now starting to affect their oil industry, their central bank, and because we’re now seeing noises about them returning to the negotiating table, that it is deeply in everybody’s interests — the United States, Israel and the world’s — to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion.
And so this notion that somehow we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks, or month or two months, is not borne out by the facts. And the argument that we’ve made to the Israelis is that we have made an unprecedented commitment to their security. There is an unbreakable bond between our two countries, but one of the functions of friends is to make sure that we provide honest and unvarnished advice in terms of what is the best approach to achieve a common goal — particularly one in which we have a stake. This is not just an issue of Israeli interest; this is an issue of U.S. interests. It’s also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely. There are consequences to the United States as well.
And so I do think that any time we consider military action that the American people understand there’s going to be a price to pay. Sometimes it’s necessary. But we don’t do it casually.
When I visit Walter Reed, when I sign letters to families that haven’t — whose loved ones have not come home, I am reminded that there is a cost. Sometimes we bear that cost. But we think it through. We don’t play politics with it. When we have in the past — when we haven’t thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes. And typically, it’s not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It’s these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.
And as a consequence, I think it’s very important for us to take a careful, thoughtful, sober approach to what is a real problem. And that’s what we’ve been doing over the last three years. That’s what I intend to keep doing.
Q Sir, I’m sorry, if I could just quickly follow up — you didn’t —
THE PRESIDENT: Jake —
Q You might not be beating the drums of war, but you did very publicly say, we’ve got Israel’s back. What does that mean?
THE PRESIDENT: What it means is, is that, historically, we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel, just like we do with a whole range of other allies — just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan. And that broad statement I think is confirmed when you look at what we’ve done over the last three years on things like Iron Dome that prevents missiles from raining down on their small towns along border regions of Israel, that potentially land on schools or children or families. And we’re going to continue that unprecedented security — security commitment.
It was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action. It was a restatement of our consistent position that the security of Israel is something I deeply care about, and that the deeds of my administration over the last three years confirms how deeply we care about it. That’s a commitment we’ve made.
Jackie. Where’s Jackie? There you are.
Q With the news this morning that the U.S. and its allies are returning to the table, are taking up Iran’s offer to talk again, more than a year after those talks broke up in frustration, is this Israel’s — Iran’s last chance to negotiate an end to this nuclear question?
And you said three years ago — nearly three years ago, in a similar one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that the time for talk — by the end of that year, 2009, you would be considering whether Iran was negotiating in good faith. And you said at that time that “we’re not going to have talks forever.” So here we are nearly three years later. Is this it? And did you think you would be here three years after those first talks?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, there is no doubt that over the last three years when Iran has engaged in negotiations there has been hemming and hawing and stalling and avoiding the issues in ways that the international community has concluded were not serious. And my expectations, given the consequences of inaction for them, the severe sanctions that are now being applied, the huge toll it’s taking on their economy, the degree of isolation that they’re feeling right now — which is unprecedented — they understand that the world community means business.
To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss in a clear and forthright way how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful. They know how to do that. This is not a mystery. And so it’s going to be very important to make sure that, on an issue like this — there are complexities; it obviously has to be methodical. I don’t expect a breakthrough in a first meeting, but I think we will have a pretty good sense fairly quickly as to how serious they are about resolving the issue.
And there are steps that they can take that would send a signal to the international community and that are verifiable, that would allow them to be in compliance with international norms, in compliance with international mandates, abiding by the non-proliferation treaty, and provide the world an assurance that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon. They know how to do it, and the question is going to be whether in these discussions they show themselves moving clearly in that direction.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to follow up on Israel and Iran because you have said repeatedly you have Israel’s back. And so I wonder why, three years in office, you have not visited Israel as President. And related to Iran and Israel, you have expressed concern about this loose talk of war, as you call it, driving up gas prices further. Your critics will say on Capitol Hill that you want gas prices to go higher because you have said before, that will wean the American people off fossil fuels, onto renewable fuels. How do you respond to that?
THE PRESIDENT: Ed, just from a political perspective, do you think the President of the United States going into reelection wants gas prices to go up higher? (Laughter.) Is that — is there anybody here who thinks that makes a lot of sense?
Look, here’s the bottom line with respect to gas prices. I want gas prices lower because they hurt families; because I meet folks every day who have to drive a long way to get to work and them filling up this gas tank gets more and more painful, and it’s a tax out of their pocketbooks, out of their paychecks, and a lot of folks are already operating on the margins right now.
And it’s not good for the overall economy, because when gas prices go up, consumer spending oftentimes pulls back. And we’re in the midst right now of a recovery that is starting to build up steam, and we don’t want to reverse it.
What I have also said about gas prices is that there is no silver bullet and the only way we’re going to solve this problem over the medium and long term is with an all-of-the-above strategy that says we’re going to increase production — which has happened; we are going to make sure that we are conserving energy — that’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars, which will save consumers about $1.7 trillion and take about 12 billion barrels of oil offline, which will help to reduce prices — and we’re going develop clean energy technologies that allow us to continue to use less oil.
And we’ve made progress. I mean, the good news is, 2010, first time in a decade that our oil imports were actually below 50 percent, and they have kept on going down. And we’re going to keep on looking at every strategy we can to, yes, reduce the amount of oil that we use, while maintaining our living standards and maintaining our productivity and maintaining our economic growth, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that consumers aren’t hurt by it.
Now, there are some short-term steps that we’re looking at with respect to — for example, there are certain potential bottlenecks in refineries around the country that we’ve been concerned about. We’re concerned about what’s happening in terms of production around the world. It’s not just what’s happening in the Gulf. You’ve had, for example, in Sudan, some oil that’s been taken offline that’s helping to restrict supply.
So we’re going to look at a whole range of measures — including, by the way, making sure that my Attorney General is paying attention to potential speculation in the oil markets. I’ve asked him to reconstitute a task force that’s examining that.
But we go through this every year. We’ve gone through this for 30 years. And if we are going to be competitive, successful, and make sure families are protected over the long term, then we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got a set of options that reduce our overall dependence on oil.
And with respect to Israel, I am not the first President who has been unable, because of a whole range of issues, not to visit Israel as President in their first term. I visited Israel twice as senator, once right before I became President. The measure of my commitment to Israel is not measured by a single visit. The measure of my commitment to Israel is seen in the actions that I’ve taken as President of the United States. And it is indisputable that I’ve had Israel’s back over the last three years.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Do you believe Rush Limbaugh’s apology to the Georgetown law student was sufficient and heartfelt? Do you agree with the decision of the growing number of sponsors that have decided to drop his show or stop supporting his show? And has there been a double standard on this issue? Liberal commentators have made similarly provocative or distasteful statements and there hasn’t been such an outrage.
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to comment on what sponsors decide to do. I’m not going to comment on either the economics or the politics of it. I don’t know what’s in Rush Limbaugh’s heart, so I’m not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology. What I can comment on is the fact that all decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don’t have any place in the public discourse.
And the reason I called Ms. Fluke is because I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about, even ones I may not agree with them on. I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way. And I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they’re being good citizens. And I wanted Sandra to know that I thought her parents should be proud of her, and that we want to send a message to all our young people that being part of a democracy involves argument and disagreements and debate, and we want you to be engaged, and there’s a way to do it that doesn’t involve you being demeaned and insulted, particularly when you’re a private citizen.
Q Bill Mahr apologized for what he said about — (inaudible) — should apologize for what they said about that?
THE PRESIDENT: Jessica.
Q Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Top Democrats have said that Republicans on a similar issue are engaged in a war on women. Some top Republicans say it’s more like Democrats are engaged in a war for the women’s vote. As you talk about loose talk of war in another arena and women are — this could raise concerns among women, do you agree with the chair of your Democratic National Committee that there is a war on women?
THE PRESIDENT: Here is what I think. Women are going to make up their own mind in this election about who is advancing the issues that they care most deeply about. And one of the things I’ve learned being married to Michelle is I don’t need to tell her what it is that she thinks is important.
And there are millions of strong women around the country who are going to make their own determination about a whole range of issues. It’s not going to be narrowly focused just on contraception. It’s not going to be driven by one statement by one radio announcer. It is going to be driven by their view of what’s most likely to make sure they can help support their families, make their mortgage payments; who’s got a plan to ensure that middle-class families are secure over the long term; what’s most likely to result in their kids being able to get the education they need to compete.
And I believe that Democrats have a better story to tell to women about how we’re going to solidify the middle class and grow this economy, make sure everybody has a fair shot, everybody is doing their fair share, and we got a fair set of rules of the road that everybody has to follow.
So I’m not somebody who believes that women are going to be single-issue voters. They never have been. But I do think that we’ve got a strong story to tell when it comes to women.
Q Would you prefer this language be changed?
THE PRESIDENT: Jessica, as you know, if I start being in the business of arbitrating —
Q You talk about civility.
THE PRESIDENT: And what I do is I practice it. And so I’m going to try to lead by example in this situation, as opposed to commenting on every single comment that’s made by either politicians or pundits. I would be very busy. I would not have time to do my job. That’s your job, to comment on what’s said by politicians and pundits.
All right. Lori Montenegro.
Q Mr. President, thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: There you go.
Q Mr. President, polls are showing that Latino voters seem to be favoring your reelection over a Republican alternative. Yet some of them are still disappointed, others have said, about a promise that you’ve made on immigration reform that has yet to come to pass. If you are reelected, what would be your strategy, what would you do different to get immigration reform passed through the Congress, especially if both houses continue as they are right now, which is split?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, just substantively, every American should want immigration reform. We’ve got a system that’s broken. We’ve got a system in which you have millions of families here in this country who are living in the shadows, worried about deportation. You’ve got American workers that are being undercut because those undocumented workers can be hired and the minimum wage laws may not be observed, overtime laws may not be observed.
You’ve got incredibly talented people who want to start businesses in this country or to work in this country, and we should want those folks here in the United States. But right now, the legal immigration system is so tangled up that it becomes very difficult for them to put down roots here.
So we can be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. And it is not just a Hispanic issue — this is an issue for everybody. This is an American issue that we need to fix.
Now, when I came into office I said I am going to push to get this done. We didn’t get it done. And the reason we haven’t gotten it done is because what used to be a bipartisan agreement that we should fix this ended up becoming a partisan issue.
I give a lot of credit to my predecessor, George Bush, and his political advisors who said this should not be just something the Democrats support; the Republican Party is invested in this as well. That was good advice then; it would be good advice now.
And my hope is, is that after this election, the Latino community will have sent a strong message that they want a bipartisan effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform that involves making sure we’ve got tough border security — and this administration has done more for border security than just about anybody — that we are making sure that companies aren’t able to take advantage of undocumented workers; that we’ve got strong laws in place; and that we’ve got a path so that all those folks whose kids often are U.S. citizens, who are working with us, living with us and in our communities, and not breaking the law, and trying to do their best to raise their families, that they’ve got a chance to be a fuller part of our community.
So, what do I think will change?
Q What would you do differently?
THE PRESIDENT: What I will do — look, we’re going to be putting forward, as we’ve done before, a framework, a proposal, legislation that can move it — move the ball forward and actually get this thing done.
But ultimately, I can’t vote for Republicans. They’re going to have to come to the conclusion that this is good for the country and that this is something that they themselves think is important. And depending on how Congress turns out, we’ll see how many Republican votes we need to get it done.
Norah O’Donnell. How are you?
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Today is Super Tuesday, so I wonder if you might weigh in on some of your potential Republican opponents. Mitt Romney has criticized you on Iran and said, “Hope is not a foreign policy.” He also said that you are “America’s most feckless President since Carter.” What would you like to say to Mr. Romney?
THE PRESIDENT: Good luck tonight. (Laughter.)
Q No, really.
THE PRESIDENT: Really. (Laughter.)
Lynn, since you’ve been hollering and you’re from my hometown, make it a good one.
Q My question is about the switch of the G8 summit from Chicago to Camp David. A reason given from the White House is that now you wanted a more intimate summit. People of Chicago would like to know what do you know now that you did not know when you booked hometown Chicago for the G8 that led to the switch? And what role did security threats possibly play in the decision?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind, Lynn, we’re still going to be showing up with a whole bunch of world leaders. We’ve got this NATO summit. Typically what’s happened is, is that we try to attach the G8 summit to the NATO summit so that the leaders in the G8 summit don’t have to travel twice to whatever location. So last year, in France, we combined a G8 with a NATO summit. We’ll do so again.
I have to say, this was an idea that was brought to me after the initial organizing of the NATO summit. Somebody pointed out that I hadn’t had any of my counterparts, who I’ve worked with now for three years, up to Camp David. G8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a pretty intimate way. And the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop. I think the weather should be good that time of year. It will give me a chance to spend time with Mr. Putin, the new Russian President. And from there, we will then fly to Chicago.
I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues. Whether it’s Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza — (laughter) — or Bull’s championships, we know how to deal with a crowd. And I’m sure that your new mayor will be quite attentive to detail in making sure that everything goes off well.
All right? Okay. Go ahead, last one, last question.
Q Thank you. Mr. President, just to continue on that — when the NATO leaders gather in Chicago in May, do you expect that they’ll be able to agree on a transition strategy? And are you concerned at all that the Koran burning and the episodes that have followed since then threaten your ability to negotiate with partners?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind that the transition policy was in place and established at Lisbon, and we’ve been following that strategy that calls for us turning over increasing responsibility to Afghans and a full transition so that our combat role is over by the end of 2014. And our coalition partners have agreed to it. They are sticking with it. That continues to be the plan.
What we are now going to be doing over the next — at this NATO meeting and planning for the next two years, is to make sure that that transition is not a cliff, but that there are benchmarks and steps that are taken along the way, in the same way that we reduced our role in Iraq so that it is gradual, Afghan capacity is built, the partnering with Afghan security forces is effective, that we are putting in place the kinds of support structures that are needed in order for the overall strategy to be effective.
Now, yes, the situation with the Koran burning concerns me. I think that it is an indication of the challenges in that environment, and it’s an indication that now is the time for us to transition.
Obviously, the violence directed at our people is unacceptable. And President Karzai acknowledged that. But what is also true is President Karzai I think is eager for more responsibility on the Afghan side. We’re going to be able to find a mechanism whereby Afghans understand their sovereignty is being respected and that they’re going to be taking a greater and greater role in their own security. That I think is in the interest of Afghans. It’s also in our interests. And I’m confident we can execute, but it’s not going to be a smooth path. There are going to be bumps along the road just as there were in Iraq.
Q Well, are these bumps along the road, or are you seeing a deterioration in the relationship, based on the Koran burning itself, the violence that has followed, that inhibits your ability to work out things like how to hand off the detention center?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I — none of this stuff is easy, and it never has been. And obviously, the most recent riots or protests against the Koran burning were tragic, but remember, this happened a while back when a pastor in Florida threatened to burn a Koran. In Iraq, as we were making this transition, there were constant crises that would pop up and tragic events that would take place and there would be occasional setbacks.
But what I’ve tried to do is to set a course, make sure that up and down the chain of command everybody knows what our broader strategy is. And one of the incredible things about our military is that when they know what our objective is, what our goal is, regardless of the obstacles that they meet along the way, they get the job done.
And I think that President Karzai understands that we are interested in a strategic partnership with the Afghan people and the Afghan government. We are not interested in staying there any longer than is necessary to assure that al Qaeda is not operating there, and that there is sufficient stability that it doesn’t end up being a free-for-all after ISAF has left.
And so we share interests here. It will require negotiations, and there will be time where things don’t look as smooth as I’d like. That’s kind of the deal internationally on a whole range of these issues.
All right? Thank you guys.
Oh, can I just make one other comment? I want to publicly express condolences to the family of Donald Payne, Congressman from New Jersey — a wonderful man; did great work, both domestically and internationally. He was a friend of mine. And so my heart goes out to his family and to his colleagues.
1:59 P.M. EST
In the State of the Union, President Obama introduced a basic principle: Every homeowner who is current on his or her payments ought to have a chance to refinance their mortgage at today’s historically low rates.
To make that idea a reality for everyone, Congress must take action.
But today, the President is taking another step to make refinancing easier for millions of Americans who have government-sponsored mortgages. He’s cutting fees — to help families save money and make refinancing more attractive.
And at a press conference that just wrapped up, President Obama announced a series of steps aimed at helping homeowners who have served in the Armed Forces.
When the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers reached a settlement with the federal government and 49 state attorneys general, they agreed to provide substantial relief to the nation’s veterans who were victims of wrongful foreclosures or who were otherwise disadvantaged in the mortgage process because of the obligations of their service.
Here’s how veterans and their families will benefit because of the settlement:
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 6, 2012
Source: Mitt Romney, 3-6-12
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 6, 2012
Rick Santorum delivers remarks at the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference (AFP, Karen Bleier)
Source: Rick Santorum, 3-6-12
On this all-important Super Tuesday, Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum stepped away from the campaign trail to personally address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, DC regarding the vital national security threat facing both the United States and Israel.
In his speech, Santorum said:
“This is a somewhat important day in my life today, but I wanted to come off the campaign trail to come here, because one of the reasons that I decided to run for president is because of the grave concern I have about the security of our country.”
“A nuclear Iran with a nuclear shield to project terror around the world is a nightmare for all freedom-loving people in the world.
“If Iran doesn’t get rid of nuclear facilities, we will tear down them ourselves.”
“This is not bellicosity and warmongering, this is preventing the most radical regime in the world from having a weapon that could fundamentally change the security posture” of “all freedom-loving people in the world.”
“Under a Santorum Administration, we would find no gap between Israel and the United States because our interests are united.”
“I’ve seen a president who has been reticent, he says he has Israel’s back. From everything I’ve seen from the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel.”
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 6, 2012
6 March, 2012
Thank you. Todah rabah.
Thank you very much.
Sara and I want to thank you for that wonderful reception. This applause that could be heard as far away as Jerusalem . Jerusalem – the eternal and united capital of Israel.
Thank you Howard, Rosy, Michael, and thank you all the leadership of AIPAC. Thank you for everything that you do.
I know that more than a half of the members of Congress are in attendance here tonight. I deeply appreciate your being here.
Michael, you said that when I spoke last May, in Congress, you – the members of congress – stood up to applaud the State of Israel.
Now I ask for another applause. Now I ask the 13,000 friends of Israel who are here tonight to stand up and applaud you – the representatives of the United States for standing up for Israel. Democrats and Republicans alike, I salute your unwavering support to the Jewish state
I want to send a special message to a great friend of Israel who is not here tonight: Senator Mark Kirk, the co-author of the Kirk-Menendez Iran Sanctions Act.
Senator Kirk, I know you’re watching this tonight. Please get well soon. America needs you; Israel needs you.
I send you wishes for a speedy recovery. So get well and get back to work.
I also want to recognize Yossi Peled, who is here tonight. Yossi, would you please stand up.
Yossi was born in Belgium. His parents hid him with a Christian family during the Holocaust, World War II. His father and many other members of his family were murdered at Auschwitz.
His mother survived the Holocaust, returned to reclaim Yossi, and brought him to Israel. He became one of Israel’s bravest and greatest generals. And today, he serves as a minister in my cabinet.
Yossi’s life is the story of the Jewish people – the story of a powerless and stateless people who became a strong and proud nation, able to defend itself.
And ladies and gentlemen, Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.
I want to recognize Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. Michael, you’re doing an outstanding job. Thank you for all you do for our country. And thank you for everything you are doing for the friendship between Israel and the United States.
I also want to recognize Ambassador Dan Shapiro, the United States’ Ambassador to Israel. President Obama is right, your Hebrew is improving, though it is not on par with Michael Oren’s. Dan, we appreciate your efforts to strengthen the alliance between America and Israel.
Are there any students here tonight?
Is there anyone here from Florida?
from New York?
from Wisconsin? — that’s important. I’ll tell you about it later
You’re the future, and thank you all for ensuring the future of the great alliance between America and Israel.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Tonight, I’d like to talk to you about a subject that no one has been talking about recently…: Iran.
Every day, I open the newspapers and read about these redlines and these timelines. I read about what Israel has supposedly decided to do, or what Israel might do.
Well, I’m not going to talk to you about what Israel will do or will not do, I never talk about that. But I do want to talk to you about the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. I want to explain why Iran must never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
President Obama has reiterated his commitment to prevent that from happening. He stated clearly that all options are on the table, and that American policy is not containment.
Well, Israel has exactly the same policy — We are determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; we leave all options on the table; and containment is definitely not an option.
The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal.
A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.
Amazingly, some people refuse to acknowledge that Iran’s goal is to develop nuclear weapons. You see, Iran claims to do everything it’s doing, that it’s enriching uranium to develop medical isotopes.
Yeah, that’s right.
A country that builds underground nuclear facilities, develops intercontinental ballistic missiles, manufactures thousands of centrifuges, and that absorbs crippling sanctions, is doing all that in order to advance…medical research.
So you see, when that Iranian ICBM is flying through the air to a location near you, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s only carrying medical isotopes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then what is it?
That’s right, it’s a duck. But this duck is a nuclear duck. And it’s time the world started calling a duck a duck.
Fortunately, President Obama and most world leaders understand that the claim that Iran’s goal is not to develop nuclear weapons is simply ridiculous.
Yet incredibly, some are prepared to accept an idea only slightly less preposterous: that we should accept a world in which the Ayatollahs have atomic bombs.
Sure, they say, Iran is cruel, but it’s not crazy. It’s detestable but it’s deterrable.
Responsible leaders should not bet the security of their countries on the belief that the world’s most dangerous regimes won’t use the world’s most dangerous weapons.
And I promise you that as Prime Minister, I will never gamble with the security of the State of Israel.
From the beginning, the Ayatollah regime has broken every international rule and flouted every norm. It has seized embassies, targeted diplomats. It sends its own children through mine fields; it hangs gays and stones women; it supports Assad’s brutal slaughter of the Syrian people; it is the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism: It sponsors Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and terrorists throughout the Middle East, Africa, even South America.
Iran’s proxies have dispatched hundreds of suicide bombers, planted thousands of roadside bombs, and they fired over twenty thousand missiles at civilians.
Through terror from the skies and terror on the ground, Iran is responsible for the murder of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans.
In 1983, Iran’s proxy Hezbollah blew up the Marine barracks in Lebanon, killing 240 US Marines. In the last decade, it’s been responsible for murdering and maiming American soldiers in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
Just a few months ago, it tried to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US in a restaurant just a few blocks from here. The assassins didn’t care that several Senators and members of Congress would have been murdered in the process.
Now this is real chutzpa, Iran accuses the American government of orchestrating 9/11, and that’s as brazen as denying the Holocaust, and they do…
Iran calls for Israel’s destruction, and they work for its destruction – each day, every day
This is how Iran behaves today, without nuclear weapons. Think of how they will behave tomorrow, with nuclear weapons. Iran will be even more reckless and a lot more dangerous.
There’s been plenty of talk recently about the costs of stopping Iran. I think it’s time we started talking about the costs of not stopping Iran.
A nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically increase terrorism by giving terrorists a nuclear umbrella. Let me try to explain what that means, a nuclear umbrella.
It means that Iran’s terror proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas will be emboldened to attack the United States, Israel, and other countries because they will be backed by a power that has atomic weapons. So the terrorism could grow tenfold.
A nuclear-armed Iran could choke off the world’s oil supply and make real its threat to close the Straits of Hormouz.
If you’re worried about the price of oil today, imagine how high oil prices could get once a nuclear-armed Iran starts blackmailing the world.
If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it would set off a mad dash by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others to acquire nuclear weapons of their own. The world’s most volatile region would become a nuclear tinderbox waiting to go off.
And here’s the worst nightmare of all, with nuclear weapons, Iran could threaten all of us with nuclear terrorism.
It could put a nuclear device in a ship heading to any port or in a truck parked in any city, anywhere in the world.
I want you to think about what it would mean to have nuclear weapons in the hands of those who lead millions of radicals who chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
When you think about that m you’ll reach a simple conclusion: for the sake of our prosperity, for the sake of our security, for the sake of our children, Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons!
Of course, the best outcome would be if Iran decided to abandon its nuclear weapons program peacefully. No one would be happier than me and the people of Israel if Iran dismantled its program.
But so far, that hasn’t happened. For fifteen years, I’ve been warning that a nuclear-armed Iran is a grave danger to my country and to the peace and security of the entire world.
For the last decade, the international community has tried diplomacy. It hasn’t worked.
For six years, the international community has applied sanctions. That hasn’t worked either.
I appreciate President Obama’s recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran. These sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy, but unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward.
Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.
As Prime Minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Some commentators would have you believe that stopping Iran from getting the bomb is more dangerous than letting Iran have the bomb. They say that a military confrontation with Iran would undermine the efforts already underway; that it would be ineffective; and that it would provoke an even more vindictive response by Iran.
I’ve heard these arguments before. In fact, I’ve read them before — In my desk, I have copies of an exchange of letters between the World Jewish Congress and the United States War Department.
Here are the letters:
The year was 1944. The World Jewish Congress implored the American government to bomb Auschwitz. The reply came five days later. I want to read it to you.
Such an operation could be executed only by diverting considerable air support essential to the success of our forces elsewhere…
and in any case, it would be of such doubtful efficacy that it would not warrant the use of our resources…
And, my friends, here’s the most remarkable sentence of all, and I quote:
Such an effort might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.
Think about that – “even more vindictive action” — than the Holocaust.
2012 is not 1944. The American government today is different. You heard it in President Obama’s speech yesterday.
But here’s my point:
The Jewish people are also different. Today we have a state of our own. And the purpose of the Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and to secure the Jewish future.
Never again will we not be masters of the fate of our very survival. Never again.
That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.
We deeply appreciate the great alliance between our two countries. But when it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Israel’s fate is to continue to be the forward position of freedom in the Middle East. The only place in the Middle East where minorities enjoy full civil rights; the only place in the Middle East where Arabs enjoy full civil rights; the only place in the Middle East where Christians are free to practice their faith; the only place in the Middle East where real judges protect the rule of law.
And as Prime Minister of Israel, I will always protect Israel’s democracy – always. I will never allow anything to threaten Israel’s democratic way of life. and most especially, I will never tolerate any discrimination against women.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This week, we will read how one woman changed Jewish history.
In Synagogues throughout the world, the Jewish people will celebrate the festival of Purim. We will read how some 2,500 years ago, a Persian anti-Semite tried to annihilate the Jewish people.
And we will read how that plot was foiled by one courageous woman – Esther.
In every generation, there are those who wish to destroy the Jewish people.
In this generation, we are blessed to live in an age when there is a Jewish state capable of defending the Jewish people.
And we are doubly blessed to have so many friends like you, Jews and non-Jews alike, who love the State of Israel and support its right to defend itself.
So as I leave you tonight I thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for standing up for the one and only Jewish state.
Thank you all and happy Purim.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 5, 2012
Source: WH, 3-4-12
President Barack Obama delivers remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C., March 4, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
This morning, President Obama addressed the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., where he reaffirmed the strength of our Nation’s special bond with Israel. Tomorrow, President Obama will hold a bi-lateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
During his remarks today, the President discussed the actions his Administration has taken to support Israel:
But as you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds. Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture – at every fork in the road – we have been there for Israel. Every single time.
Four years ago, I stood before you and said that “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable.” That belief has guided my actions as President. The fact is, my Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every year. We are investing in new capabilities. We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology – the type of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies. And make no mistake: we will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge – because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.
The President also discussed the importance of securing peace between Israelis and Palestinians – a goal shared by the Israeli government:
Of course, there are those who question not my security and diplomatic commitments, but my Administration’s ongoing pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. So let me say this: I make no apologies for pursuing peace. Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, and President Peres – each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.
I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel’s security interest. The reality that Israel faces – from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment – demands a resolution of this issue. And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel’s founding values – because of our shared belief in self-determination; and because Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected.
President Obama also discussed the United States and Israel’s mutual interest in ensuring that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. As the President said: “Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we have done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world. It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.
President of Israel Shimon Peres acknowledges recognition from President Barack Obama during President Obama’s remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C., March 4, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Washington Convention Center
11:10 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, good morning, everyone.
Rosy, thank you for your kind words. I have never seen Rosy on the basketball court. I’ll bet it would be a treat. (Laughter.) Rosy, you’ve been a dear friend of mine for a long time and a tireless advocate for the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States. And as you complete your term as President, I salute your leadership and your commitment. (Applause.)
I want to thank the board of directors. As always, I’m glad to see my long-time friends in the Chicago delegation. (Applause.) I also want to thank the members of Congress who are with us here today, and who will be speaking to you over the next few days. You’ve worked hard to maintain the partnership between the United States and Israel. And I especially want to thank my close friend, and leader of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Applause.)
I’m glad that my outstanding young Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, is in the house. (Applause.) I understand that Dan is perfecting his Hebrew on his new assignment, and I appreciate his constant outreach to the Israeli people. And I’m also pleased that we’re joined by so many Israeli officials, including Ambassador Michael Oren. (Applause.) And tomorrow, I’m very much looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu and his delegation back to the White House. (Applause.)
Every time I come to AIPAC, I’m especially impressed to see so many young people here. (Applause.) You don’t yet get the front seats — I understand. (Laughter.) You have to earn that. But students from all over the country who are making their voices heard and engaging deeply in our democratic debate. You carry with you an extraordinary legacy of more than six decades of friendship between the United States and Israel. And you have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to make your own mark on the world. And for inspiration, you can look to the man who preceded me on this stage, who’s being honored at this conference — my friend, President Shimon Peres. (Applause.)
Shimon was born a world away from here, in a shtetl in what was then Poland, a few years after the end of the first world war. But his heart was always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people. (Applause.) And when he was just a boy he made his journey across land and sea — toward home.
In his life, he has fought for Israel’s independence, and he has fought for peace and security. As a member of the Haganah and a member of the Knesset, as a Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, as a Prime Minister and as President — Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today: the Jewish state of Israel. (Applause.) But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might — not the other way around. (Applause.)
Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, “slings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom.” And he has lived those values. (Applause.) He has taught us to ask more of ourselves, and to empathize more with our fellow human beings. I am grateful for his life’s work and his moral example. And I’m proud to announce that later this spring, I will invite Shimon Peres to the White House to present him with America’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Applause.)
In many ways, this award is a symbol of the broader ties that bind our nations. The United States and Israel share interests, but we also share those human values that Shimon spoke about: A commitment to human dignity. A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God’s children. An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can truly respond to the aspirations of citizens.
America’s Founding Fathers understood this truth, just as Israel’s founding generation did. President Truman put it well, describing his decision to formally recognize Israel only minutes after it declared independence. He said, “I had faith in Israel before it was established. I believe it has a glorious future before it — as not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”
For over six decades, the American people have kept that faith. Yes, we are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share — in security for our communities, prosperity for our people, the new frontiers of science that can light the world. But ultimately it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship. That is why America’s commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties. (Applause.) In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay. (Applause.)
AIPAC’s work continually nurtures this bond. And because of AIPAC’s effectiveness in carrying out its mission, you can expect that over the next several days, you will hear many fine words from elected officials describing their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship. But as you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds. Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture — at every fork in the road — we have been there for Israel. Every single time. (Applause.)
Four years ago, I stood before you and said that, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable.” That belief has guided my actions as President. The fact is, my administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. (Applause.) Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every single year. (Applause.) We are investing in new capabilities. We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology — the types of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies. And make no mistake: We will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge — because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. (Applause.)
This isn’t just about numbers on a balance sheet. As a senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border. I visited with families who’ve known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot. And that’s why, as President, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes and hospitals and schools in that town and in others. (Applause.) Now our assistance is expanding Israel’s defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles. Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.
And just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we’ve been there through our diplomacy. When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. (Applause.) When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. (Applause.) When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. (Applause.)
When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them. (Applause.) When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. (Applause.) And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. (Applause.) So there should not be a shred of doubt by now — when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back. (Applause.)
Which is why, if during this political season — (laughter) — you hear some questions regarding my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts. And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics. America’s national security is too important. Israel’s security is too important. (Applause.)
Of course, there are those who question not my security and diplomatic commitments, but rather my administration’s ongoing pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. So let me say this: I make no apologies for pursuing peace. Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state. I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel’s security interest. (Applause.)
The reality that Israel faces — from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment — demands a resolution of this issue. And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel’s founding values — because of our shared belief in self-determination, and because Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected. (Applause.)
Of course, peace is hard to achieve. There’s a reason why it’s remained elusive for six decades. The upheaval and uncertainty in Israel’s neighborhood makes it that much harder — from the horrific violence raging in Syria, to the transition in Egypt. And the division within the Palestinian leadership makes it harder still — most notably, with Hamas’s continued rejection of Israel’s very right to exist.
But as hard as it may be, we should not, and cannot, give in to cynicism or despair. The changes taking place in the region make peace more important, not less. And I’ve made it clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met. (Applause.) That’s why we continue to press Arab leaders to reach out to Israel, and will continue to support the peace treaty with Egypt. That’s why — just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace — we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, and reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements. (Applause.) And that is why my administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties. (Applause.)
As Rosy noted, last year, I stood before you and pledged that, “the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations.” As you know, that pledge has been kept. (Applause.) Last September, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed that any lasting peace must acknowledge the fundamental legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns. I said that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, our friendship with Israel is enduring, and that Israel must be recognized. No American President has made such a clear statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time. People usually give those speeches before audiences like this one — not before the General Assembly. (Applause.)
And I must say, there was not a lot of applause. (Laughter.) But it was the right thing to do. (Applause.) And as a result, today there is no doubt — anywhere in the world — that the United States will insist upon Israel’s security and legitimacy. (Applause.) That will be true as we continue our efforts to pursue — in the pursuit of peace. And that will be true when it comes to the issue that is such a focus for all of us today: Iran’s nuclear program — a threat that has the potential to bring together the worst rhetoric about Israel’s destruction with the world’s most dangerous weapons.
Let’s begin with a basic truth that you all understand: No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction. (Applause.) And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders.
A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. (Applause.)
Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we’ve done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions. It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.
And that is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that is what we have done. (Applause.)
When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters. Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world. In the region, Iran was ascendant — increasingly popular, and extending its reach. In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward.
And so from my very first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t. In fact, our policy of engagement — quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime — allowed us to rally the international community as never before, to expose Iran’s intransigence, and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.
Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before. Some of you will recall, people predicted that Russia and China wouldn’t join us to move toward pressure. They did. And in 2010 the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort. Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime. They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011. Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran’s Central Bank and oil exports. But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us. And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions.
That is where we are today — because of our work. Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure. And by the way, the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally — the Assad regime — is crumbling.
Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unresolved. The effective implementation of our policy is not enough — we must accomplish our objective. (Applause.) And in that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy — backed by pressure — to succeed.
The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program. Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists. Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July — thanks to our diplomatic coordination — a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold. (Applause.) Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end.
And given their history, there are, of course, no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice. But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically. After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons. That’s what history tells us.
Moreover, as President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war. (Applause.) I have sent men and women into harm’s way. I’ve seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who’ve come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don’t make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency. And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it. And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.
We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically. Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States — (applause) — just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. (Applause.)
I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. (Applause.) That includes all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency. (Applause.)
Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.) And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests. (Applause.)
Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues; the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program. 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. Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built. Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly; carry a big stick. (Applause.) And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.
These are challenging times. But we’ve been through challenging times before, and the United States and Israel have come through them together. Because of our cooperation, citizens in both our countries have benefited from the bonds that bring us together. I’m proud to be one of those people. In the past, I’ve shared in this forum just why those bonds are so personal for me: the stories of a great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald, to my memories of returning there with Elie Wiesel; from sharing books with President Peres to sharing seders with my young staff in a tradition that started on the campaign trail and continues in the White House; from the countless friends I know in this room to the concept of tikkun olam that has enriched and guided my life. (Applause.)
As Harry Truman understood, Israel’s story is one of hope. We may not agree on every single issue — no two nations do, and our democracies contain a vibrant diversity of views. But we agree on the big things — the things that matter. And together, we are working to build a better world — one where our people can live free from fear; one where peace is founded upon justice; one where our children can know a future that is more hopeful than the present.
There is no shortage of speeches on the friendship between the United States and Israel. But I’m also mindful of the proverb, “A man is judged by his deeds, not his words.” So if you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done — to stand up for Israel; to secure both of our countries; and to see that the rough waters of our time lead to a peaceful and prosperous shore. (Applause.)
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless the people of Israel. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
11:42 A.M. EST
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 4, 2012
By Jeffrey Goldberg
Source: The Atlantic, 3-2-12
Dismissing a strategy of “containment” as unworkable, the president tells me
At the White House on Monday, President Obama will seek to persuade the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to postpone whatever plans he may have to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in the coming months. Obama will argue that under his leadership, the United States “has Israel’s back,” and that he will order the U.S. military to destroy Iran’s nuclear program if economic sanctions fail to compel Tehran to shelve its nuclear ambitions.
In the most extensive interview he has given about the looming Iran crisis, Obama told me earlier this week that both Iran and Israel should take seriously the possibility of American action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff.” He went on, “I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But 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.”
The 45-minute Oval Office conversation took place less than a week before the president was scheduled to address the annual convention of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, and then meet, the next day, with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House. In the interview, Obama stated specifically that “all options are on the table,” and that the final option is the “military component.” But the president also said that sanctions organized by his administration have put Iran in a “world of hurt,” and that economic duress might soon force the regime in Tehran to rethink its efforts to pursue a nuclear-weapons program.
“Without in any way being under an illusion about Iranian intentions, without in any way being naive about the nature of that regime, they are self-interested,” Obama said. “It is possible for them to make a strategic calculation that, at minimum, pushes much further to the right whatever potential breakout capacity they may have, and that may turn out to to be the best decision for Israel’s security.”
The president also said that Tehran’s nuclear program would represent a “profound” national-security threat to the United States even if Israel were not a target of Iran’s violent rhetoric, and he dismissed the argument that the United States could successfully contain a nuclear Iran.
“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.” He went on to say, “The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.”
“When I say this is in the U.S. interest, I’m not saying this is something we’d like to solve. I’m saying this is something we have to solve.”
The president was most animated when talking about the chaotic arms race he fears would break out if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon, and he seemed most frustrated when talking about what he sees as a deliberate campaign by Republicans to convince American Jews that he is anti-Israel. “Every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept,” he told me. “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?”
Though he struck a consistently pro-Israel posture during the interview, Obama went to great lengths to caution Israel that a premature strike might inadvertently help Iran: “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?”
He also said he would try to convince Netanyahu that the only way to bring about a permanent end to a country’s nuclear program is to convince the country in question that nuclear weapons are not in its best interest. “Our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily,” he said, “and the only way historically that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table. That’s what happened in Libya, that’s what happened in South Africa.”
And though broadly sympathetic to Netanyahu’s often-stated fear that Iran’s nuclear program represents a Holocaust-scale threat to the Jewish state, and the Jewish people, Obama suggested strongly that historical fears cannot be the sole basis for precipitous action: “The prime minister is head of a modern state that is mindful of the profound costs of any military action, and in our consultations with the Israeli government, I think they take those costs, and potential unintended consequences, very seriously.”
But when I asked the president if he thought Israel could damage its reputation among Americans with an attack on Iran — an attack that could provoke Iranian retaliation against American targets, and could cause massive economic disruption — he said, “I think we in the United States instinctively sympathize with Israel.” President Obama also shared fascinating insights about his sometimes tension-filled relationship with Netanyahu — and spoke at length about Syria — but for that, you’ll have to read the entire interview. Here is a transcript of our conversation:
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: From what we understand, Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to ask you for some specific enunciations of red lines, for specific promises related to the Iranian nuclear program. What is your message to the prime minister going to be? What do you want to get across to him?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: First of all, it’s important to say that I don’t know exactly what the prime minister is going to be coming with. We haven’t gotten any indication that there is some sharp “ask” that is going to be presented. Both the United States and Israel have been in constant consultation about a very difficult issue, and that is the prospect of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is something that has been one of my top five foreign-policy concerns since I came into office.
We, immediately upon taking over, mapped out a strategy that said we are going to mobilize the international community around this issue and isolate Iran to send a clear message to them that there is a path they can follow that allows them to rejoin the community of nations, but if they refused to follow that path, that there would be an escalating series of consequences.
Three years later, we can look back and say we have been successful beyond most people’s expectations. When we came in, Iran was united and on the move, and the world was divided about how to address this issue. Today, the world is as united as we’ve ever seen it around the need for Iran to take a different path on its nuclear program, and Iran is isolated and feeling the severe effects of the multiple sanctions that have been placed on it.
At the same time, we understand that the bottom line is: Does the problem get solved? And I think that Israel, understandably, has a profound interest not just in good intentions but in actual results. And in the conversations I’ve had over the course of three years, and over the course of the last three months and three weeks, what I’ve emphasized is that preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn’t just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States, and that when I say we’re not taking any option off the table, we mean it. We are going to continue to apply pressure until Iran takes a different course.
GOLDBERG: Go back to this language, ‘All options on the table.’ You’ve probably said it 50 or 100 times. And a lot of people believe it, but the two main intended audiences, the supreme leader of Iran and the prime minister of Israel, you could argue, don’t entirely trust this. The impression we get is that the Israeli government thinks this is a vague expression that’s been used for so many years. Is there some ramping-up of the rhetoric you’re going to give them?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the Israeli people understand it, I think the American people understand it, and I think the Iranians understand it. It means a political component that involves isolating Iran; it means an economic component that involves unprecedented and crippling sanctions; it means a diplomatic component in which we have been able to strengthen the coalition that presents Iran with various options through the P-5 plus 1 and ensures that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is robust in evaluating Iran’s military program; and it includes a military component. And I think people understand that.
I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But 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. Let me describe very specifically why this is important to us.
In addition to the profound threat that it poses to Israel, one of our strongest allies in the world; in addition to the outrageous language that has been directed toward Israel by the leaders of the Iranian government — if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, this would run completely contrary to my policies of nonproliferation. The risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist organizations are profound. It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons. So now you have the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world, one that is rife with unstable governments and sectarian tensions. And it would also provide Iran the additional capability to sponsor and protect its proxies in carrying out terrorist attacks, because they are less fearful of retaliation.
GOLDBERG: What would your position be if Israel weren’t in this picture?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It would still be a profound national-security interest of the United States to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
GOLDBERG: Why, then, is this issue so often seen as binary, always defined as Israel versus Iran?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think it has to do with a legitimate concern on the part of Israel that they are a small country in a tough neighborhood, and as a consequence, even though the U.S. and Israel very much share assessments of how quickly Iran could obtain breakout capacity, and even though there is constant consultation and intelligence coordination around that question, Israel feels more vulnerable. And I think the prime minister and the defense minister, [Ehud Barak,] feel a profound, historic obligation not to put Israel in a position where it cannot act decisively and unilaterally to protect the state of Israel. I understand those concerns, and as a consequence, I think it’s not surprising that the way it gets framed, at least in this country, where the vast majority of people are profoundly sympathetic to Israel’s plight and potential vulnerabilities — that articles and stories get framed in terms of Israel’s potential vulnerability.
But I want to make clear that when we travel around the world and make presentations about this issue, that’s not how we frame it. We frame it as: this is something in the national-security interests of the United States and in the interests of the world community. And I assure you that Europe would not have gone forward with sanctions on Iranian oil imports — which are very difficult for them to carry out, because they get a lot of oil from Iran — had it not been for their understanding that it is in the world’s interest, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. China would not have abided by the existing sanctions coming out of the National Security Council, and other countries around the world would not have unified around those sanctions, had it not been for us making the presentation about why this was important for everyone, not just one country.
GOLDBERG: Is it possible that the prime minister of Israel has over-learned the lessons of the Holocaust?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the prime minister has a profound responsibility to protect the Israeli people in a hostile neighborhood, and I am certain that the history of the Holocaust and of anti-Semitism and brutality directed against the Jewish people for more than a millennium weighs on him when he thinks about these questions.
I think it’s important to recognize, though, that the prime minister is also head of a modern state that is mindful of the profound costs of any military action, and in our consultations with the Israeli government, I think they take those costs, and potential unintended consequences, very seriously.
GOLDBERG: Do you think Israel could cause damage to itself in America by preempting the Iranian nuclear program militarily?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don’t know how it plays in America. I think we in the United States instinctively sympathize with Israel, and I think political support for Israel is bipartisan and powerful.
In my discussions with Israel, the key question that I ask is: How does this impact their own security environment? I’ve said it publicly and I say it privately: ultimately, the Israeli prime minister and the defense minister and others in the government have to make their decisions about what they think is best for Israel’s security, and I don’t presume to tell them what is best for them.
But as Israel’s closest friend and ally, and as one that has devoted the last three years to making sure that Israel has additional security capabilities, and has worked to manage a series of difficult problems and questions over the past three years, I do point out to them that we have a sanctions architecture that is far more effective than anybody anticipated; that we have a world that is about as united as you get behind the sanctions; that our assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.
In that context, our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table. That’s what happened in Libya, that’s what happened in South Africa. And we think that, without in any way being under an illusion about Iranian intentions, without in any way being naive about the nature of that regime, they are self-interested. They recognize that they are in a bad, bad place right now. It is possible for them to make a strategic calculation that, at minimum, pushes much further to the right whatever potential breakout capacity they may have, and that may turn out to be the best decision for Israel’s security.
These are difficult questions, and again, if I were the prime minister of Israel, I’d be wrestling with them. As president of the United States, I wrestle with them as well.
GOLDBERG: Could you shed some light on your relationship with the prime minister? You’ve met with him more than with any other world leader. It’s assumed that you have a dysfunctional relationship. What is it like?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I actually think the relationship is very functional, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The fact of the matter is, we’ve gotten a lot of business done with Israel over the last three years. I think the prime minister — and certainly the defense minister — would acknowledge that we’ve never had closer military and intelligence cooperation. When you look at what I’ve done with respect to security for Israel, from joint training and joint exercises that outstrip anything that’s been done in the past, to helping finance and construct the Iron Dome program to make sure that Israeli families are less vulnerable to missile strikes, to ensuring that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge, to fighting back against delegitimization of Israel, whether at the [UN] Human Rights Council, or in front of the UN General Assembly, or during the Goldstone Report, or after the flare-up involving the flotilla — the truth of the matter is that the relationship has functioned very well.
GOLDBERG: Are you friends? Do you talk about things other than business?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, the truth of the matter is, both of us have so much on our plates that there’s not always a lot of time to have discussions beyond business. Having said that, what I think is absolutely true is that the prime minister and I come out of different political traditions. This is one of the few times in the history of U.S.-Israeli relations where you have a government from the right in Israel at the same time you have a center-left government in the United States, and so I think what happens then is that a lot of political interpretations of our relationship get projected onto this.
But one thing that I have found in working with Prime Minister Netanyahu is that we can be very frank with each other, very blunt with each other, very honest with each other. For the most part, when we have differences, they are tactical and not strategic. Our objectives are a secure United States, a secure Israel, peace, the capacity for our kids to grow up in safety and security and not have to worry about bombs going off, and being able to promote business and economic growth and commerce. We have a common vision about where we want to go. At any given moment — as is true, frankly, with my relationship with every other foreign leader — there’s not going to be perfect alignment of how we achieve these objectives.
GOLDBERG: In an interview three years ago, right before he became prime minister, Netanyahu told me that he believes Iran is being run by a “messianic apocalyptic cult.” Last week, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. referred to the Iranian leadership as “rational.” Where do you fall on this continuum? Do you feel that the leaders of Iran might be so irrational that they will not act in what we would understand to be their self-interest?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think you’re right to describe it as a continuum. There is no doubt they are isolated. They have a very ingrown political system. They are founded and fueled on hostility towards the United States, Israel, and to some degree the West. And they have shown themselves willing to go outside international norms and international rules to achieve their objectives. All of this makes them dangerous. They’ve also been willing to crush opposition in their own country in brutal and bloody ways.
GOLDBERG: Do you think they are messianic?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think it’s entirely legitimate to say that this is a regime that does not share our worldview or our values. I do think, and this is what General Dempsey was probably referring to, that as we look at how they operate and the decisions they’ve made over the past three decades, that they care about the regime’s survival. They’re sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they’re experiencing. They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them. They are able to make decisions based on trying to avoid bad outcomes from their perspective. So if they’re presented with options that lead to either a lot of pain from their perspective, or potentially a better path, then there’s no guarantee that they can’t make a better decision.
GOLDBERG: It seems unlikely that a regime built on anti-Americanism would want to appear to succumb to an American-led sanctions effort.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the question here is going to be: What exactly are their genuine interests? Now, what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard directly from them over the last couple of weeks is that nuclear weapons are sinful and un-Islamic. And those are formal speeches from the supreme leader and their foreign minister.
GOLDBERG: Do you believe their sincerity?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: My point here is not that I believe the sincerity of the statements coming out of the regime. The point is that for them to prove to the international community that their intentions are peaceful and that they are, in fact, not pursuing weapons, is not inconsistent with what they’ve said. So it doesn’t require them to knuckle under to us. What it does require is for them to actually show to the world that there is consistency between their actions and their statements. And that’s something they should be able to do without losing face.
GOLDBERG: Let me flip this entirely around and ask: Why is containment not your policy? In the sense that we contained the Soviet Union, North Korea —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It’s for the reason I described — because you’re talking about the most volatile region in the world. 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.
The only analogous situation is North Korea. We have applied a lot of pressure on North Korea as well and, in fact, today found them willing to suspend some of their nuclear activities and missile testing and come back to the table. But North Korea is even more isolated, and certainly less capable of shaping the environment [around it] than Iran is. And so the dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.
GOLDBERG: Do you see accidental nuclear escalation as an issue?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely. Look, the fact is, I don’t think any of it would be accidental. I think it would be very intentional. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I won’t name the countries, but there are probably four or five countries in the Middle East who say, “We are going to start a program, and we will have nuclear weapons.” And at that point, the prospect for miscalculation in a region that has that many tensions and fissures is profound. You essentially then duplicate the challenges of India and Pakistan fivefold or tenfold.
GOLDBERG: With everybody pointing at everybody else.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: With everybody pointing at everybody else.
GOLDBERG: What I’m getting at specifically is, let’s assume there’s a Hezbollah attack on Israel. Israel responds into Lebanon. Iran goes on some kind of a nuclear alert, and then one-two-three —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The potential for escalation in those circumstances is profoundly dangerous, and in addition to just the potential human costs of a nuclear escalation like that in the Middle East, just imagine what would happen in terms of the world economy. The possibilities of the sort of energy disruptions that we’ve never seen before occurring, and the world economy basically coming to a halt, would be pretty profound. So when I say this is in the U.S. interest, I’m not saying this is something we’d like to solve. I’m saying this is something we have to solve.
GOLDBERG: One of the aspects of this is the question of whether it’s plausible that Barack Obama would ever use military power to stop Iran. The Republicans are trying to make this an issue — and not only the Republicans — saying that this man, by his disposition, by his character, by his party, by his center-left outlook, is not going to do that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look, if people want to say about me that I have a profound preference for peace over war, that every time I order young men and women into a combat theater and then see the consequences on some of them, if they’re lucky enough to come back, that this weighs on me — I make no apologies for that. Because anybody who is sitting in my chair who isn’t mindful of the costs of war shouldn’t be here, because it’s serious business. These aren’t video games that we’re playing here.
Now, having said that, I think it’s fair to say that the last three years, I’ve shown myself pretty clearly willing, when I believe it is in the core national interest of the United States, to direct military actions, even when they entail enormous risks. And obviously, the bin Laden operation is the most dramatic, but al-Qaeda was on its [knees] well before we took out bin Laden because of our activities and my direction.
In Afghanistan, we’ve made very tough decisions because we felt it was very important, in order for an effective transition out of Afghanistan to take place, for us to be pushing back against the Taliban’s momentum.
So aside from the usual politics, I don’t think this is an argument that has a lot of legs. And by the way, it’s not an argument that the American people buy. They may have complaints about high unemployment still, and that the recovery needs to move faster, but you don’t hear a lot of them arguing somehow that I hesitate to make decisions as commander in chief when necessary.
GOLDBERG: Can you just talk about Syria as a strategic issue? Talk about it as a humanitarian issue, as well. But it would seem to me that one way to weaken and further isolate Iran is to remove or help remove Iran’s only Arab ally.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely.
GOLDBERG: And so the question is: What else can this administration be doing?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, look, there’s no doubt that Iran is much weaker now than it was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago. The Arab Spring, as bumpy as it has been, represents a strategic defeat for Iran, because what people in the region have seen is that all the impulses towards freedom and self-determination and free speech and freedom of assembly have been constantly violated by Iran. [The Iranian leadership is] no friend of that movement toward human rights and political freedom. But more directly, it is now engulfing Syria, and Syria is basically their only true ally in the region.
And it is our estimation that [President Bashar al-Assad’s] days are numbered. It’s a matter not of if, but when. Now, can we accelerate that? We’re working with the world community to try to do that. It is complicated by the fact that Syria is a much bigger, more sophisticated, and more complicated country than Libya, for example — the opposition is hugely splintered — that although there’s unanimity within the Arab world at this point, internationally, countries like Russia are still blocking potential UN mandates or action. And so what we’re trying to do — and the secretary of state just came back from helping to lead the Friends of Syria group in Tunisia — is to try to come up with a series of strategies that can provide humanitarian relief. But they can also accelerate a transition to a peaceful and stable and representative Syrian government. If that happens, that will be a profound loss for Iran.
GOLDBERG: Is there anything you could do to move it faster?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, nothing that I can tell you, because your classified clearance isn’t good enough. (Laughter.)
This is part of, by the way, the context in which we have to examine our approach toward Iran, because at a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim, and deflect attention from what has to be the core issue, which is their potential pursuit of nuclear weapons?
That’s an example of factors that — when we are in consultation with all our allies, including the Israelis, we raise these factors, because this is an issue of many dimensions here, and we’ve got to factor all of them in to achieve the outcome that hopefully we all want.
GOLDBERG: Do the Israelis understand that? There have been disagreements between Israel and the U.S. before, but this is coming to a head about what the Israelis see as an existential issue. The question is: In your mind, have you brought arguments to Netanyahu that have so far worked out well?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think that in the end, Israel’s leaders will make determinations based on what they believe is best for the security of Israel, and that is entirely appropriate.
When we present our views and our strategy approach, we try to put all our cards on the table, to describe how we are thinking about these issues. We try to back those up with facts and evidence. We compare their assessments with ours, and where there are gaps, we try to narrow those gaps. And what I also try to do is to underscore the seriousness with which the United States takes this issue. And I think that Ehud Barak understands it. I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu, hopefully when he sees me next week, will understand it.
And one of the things that I like to remind them of is that every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept. I mean, part of your — not to put words in your mouth — but part of the underlying question is: 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?
GOLDBERG: That’s a good way to phrase it.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And my answer is: there is no good reason to doubt me on these issues.
“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?”
Some of it has to do with the fact that in this country and in our media, this gets wrapped up with politics. And I don’t think that’s any secret. And if you have a set of political actors who want to see if they can drive a wedge not between the United States and Israel, but between Barack Obama and a Jewish American vote that has historically been very supportive of his candidacy, then it’s good to try to fan doubts and raise questions.
But when you look at the record, there’s no “there” there. And my job is to try to make sure that those political factors are washed away on an issue that is of such great strategic and security importance to our two countries. And so when I’m talking to the prime minister, or my team is talking to the Israeli government, what I want is a hardheaded, clear-eyed assessment of how do we achieve our goals.
And our goals are in sync. And historically, one of the reasons that the U.S.-Israeli relationship has survived so well and thrived is shared values, shared history, the links between our peoples. But it’s also been because it has been a profoundly bipartisan commitment to the state of Israel. And the flip side of it is that, in terms of Israeli politics, there’s been a view that regardless of whether it’s a Democratic or Republican administration, the working assumption is: we’ve got Israel’s back. And that’s something that I constantly try to reinforce and remind people of.
GOLDBERG: Wait, in four words, is that your message to the prime minister — we’ve got Israel’s back?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: That is not just my message to the prime minister, that’s been my message to the Israeli people, and to the pro-Israel community in this country, since I came into office. It’s hard for me to be clearer than I was in front of the UN General Assembly, when I made a more full-throated defense of Israel and its legitimate security concerns than any president in history — not, by the way, in front of an audience that was particularly warm to the message. So that actually won’t be my message. My message will be much more specific, about how do we solve this problem.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 2, 2012