Barack Obama says he's not bluffing on Iran

 

Washington

President Barack Obama warned that he is not bluffing about attacking
Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon, but in an interview published
today, Obama also cautioned US ally Israel that a premature attack on
Iran would do more harm than good.

In his most expansive remarks on the issue thus far, Obama told The Atlantic magazine that Iran and Israel both understand that "a military component" is among a mix of many options for dealing with Iran, along with sanctions and diplomacy. That is the most direct threat he has issued during months of escalating tension with Iran over its disputed nuclear development program.

His comments appeared aimed more at Israel and its supporters in the United States than at Iran. Obama addresses the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday and meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday at the White House. Netanyahu will also address AIPAC.

"I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff," he said in the interview. "I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But (both) governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."

Netanyahu, speaking today ahead of a meeting in Canada with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, called Iran's nuclear ambitions a "grave threat to the peace and security of the world, and I think it's important that the international community not allow this threat to materialize."

"As for Israel, like any sovereign country, we reserve the right to defend ourselves against a country, against a country that calls and works for our destruction," Netanyahu said.

Obama will try to convince Netanyahu to postpone any plans his government may have to unilaterally attack Iran's nuclear facilities in coming months. An attack that soon would not carry US backing, and the US would probably not be involved in planning or executing it.

Nonetheless, it could force the United States into a new conflict and an arms race in the Middle East, as Obama made clear in the lengthy interview. It also could allow Iran to paint itself as the victim and draw new support that would undermine rather than enhance Israel's security, Obama warned.

"At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally (Syria) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?" Obama said.

At the same time, Obama has consistently refused to renounce a military option for the United States down the road. The dispute with Israel is over the timing and efficiency of such a strike, not whether one is ever appropriate. The difference of opinion has quickly come to dominate the US-Israeli relationship and the US strategy for dealing with a nuclear Iran is a major issue for American Jewish voters in this election year.

Israeli leaders have strongly hinted that they want to hear clearer terms from Obama for what the United States would do if Iran crosses the threshold from nuclear energy to nuclear weapons. Until now, Obama has said a nuclear Iran is unacceptable but has not spelled out just what the US would do or when.

In the interview, Obama did go further than he has before. He explicitly referred to the possible use of military force, and he firmly rejected the notion that the United States might settle for a strategy of deterring Iran from using a nuclear weapon.

"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 also pointed to economic turmoil in Iran and reiterated that sanctions against the Iranian regime are starting to bite.

In a series of recent meetings with Israeli leaders, administration officials are believed to have sought to persuade the Jewish state to give sanctions more time to work and to hold off on any military strike. Speaking on Thursday to reporters, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama believes there is still "time and space" for those measure to persuade the Iranian regime to take a different course.

Israeli officials acknowledge the pain in Iran but have publicly expressed doubt those measures will ever cause Iran's clerical leaders to change course.

Obama wasn't so sure. "They're sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they're experiencing," he told the Atlantic. "They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them."

Though Obama emphatically portrays himself as one of Israel's best friends, touting military and other ties, his relationship with Netanyahu has at times been frosty. The two have sparred publicly over Jewish settlements on the West Bank, with Netanyahu pushing back on Washington's efforts to move forward on peace talks with the Palestinians.

The Iran issue has risen to the forefront of his foreign policy. At a fundraiser in New York on Thursday night, an audience member shouted out, urging the president to avoid a war with Iran.

"Nobody has announced a war," Obama cautioned. "You're jumping the gun a little bit."

AP

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Male Behaviour Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

BA/PM,EMIR/Dodd-Frank,London,£450-650P/D

£450 - £650 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

SEN Learning Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

Key stage 1 and 2 teachers required for the Vale of Glamorgan

£90 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme & Free Training: Randstad Education Cardiff...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz