President Obama sought to convince the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference today that “when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
He also placed blame on the Bush administration for letting Iran become the threat it is today, claiming that a policy of putting pressure on Iran was “in tatters” when he took office.
“If during this political season you hear some question my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts,” the president said.
He also said he has “no apologies” for pursuing the Middle East peace process, which is effectively stalled, while continually pressing that he is a friend of Israel.
“As you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words,” Obama said. “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.”
“When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it,” he continued. “When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. 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 help save them. When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my Administration has opposed them.
“So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
It was after this that Obama moved on to the topic over which the president is expected to clash with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — Monday night’s gala speaker here — over these few days: Iran.
“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,” Obama said. “That is what we have done.”
He claimed that when he took office, the George W. Bush administration had left “the efforts to apply pressure on Iran …in tatters.”
“And so from my 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,” Obama said. “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 his administration, the commander in chief said, “Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure.”
He said that he still believes that there can be a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.
“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,” Obama said. “Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists.”
The crowd was largely quiet during these comments.
The president acknowledged that there are “no guarantees” that Tehran “will make the right choice,” as suggested by the Islamic Republic’s history.
“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. That includes all elements of American power,” Obama said. “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 to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”
“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,” he added, receiving a standing ovation from much of the audience. “And as I’ve 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.”
He asked the crowd to remember the “weightiness” of the issue when considering how to confront Iran.
“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 that we have built,” he said.
Obama said the two countries “may not agree on every single issue … but we agree on the big things.”