National Security Advisor Susan Rice warmed up the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention this evening by demonstrating her grasp of Hebrew pronunciation, but it wasn’t enough to win their confidence on the nuts and bolts of her address — the administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.
“As President Obama has repeated many times: we are keeping all options on the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. As he said in Jerusalem: ‘Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained.’ And he added, ‘America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran,'” Rice told the sellout crowd of 16,000 at the Washington Convention Center.
“President Obama said it. He meant it. And those are his orders to us all.”
Following the AIPAC tradition of not booing speakers but voicing their opinion by withholding their clapping, that line drew just a smattering of applause.
“With the Joint Plan of Action, we have already succeeded in halting Iran’s nuclear program and rolling it back in key areas. Let’s recall what has been achieved over the last year. Iran is doing away with its existing stockpile of its most highly enriched uranium. Iran has capped its stockpile of low enriched uranium. Iran has not constructed additional enrichment facilities. Iran has not installed or operated new centrifuges, including its next-generation models. Iran has stopped construction at its potential plutonium reactor at Arak. In short, Iran is further away from a nuclear weapon than it was a year ago—and that makes the world safer, including Israel,” Rice said. You could count the claps that garnered on a couple of hands.
Not that the audience was sleepwalking through the speech. When Rice said “a bad deal is worse than no deal,” the crowd leaped to its feet with applause.
She defined a “good deal,” then, as “one that would verifiably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.”
And there were lines that Rice’s speechwriter likely didn’t intend to be crowd favorites, but were.
“I know that some of you will be urging Congress to insist that Iran forego its domestic enrichment capacity entirely,” she said, sparking cheers and applause.
“But, as desirable as that would be, it is neither realistic nor achievable. Even our closest international partners in the P5+1 do not support denying Iran the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy. If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us, undermining the sanctions we have imposed so effectively together. Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position. Nor is it even attainable. The plain fact is, no one can make Iran unlearn the scientific and nuclear expertise it already possesses.”
Then, Rice said, “I know that some argue we should just impose sanctions and walk away ” — another big applause line.
“Congress has played a hugely important role in helping to build our sanctions on Iran, but they shouldn’t play the spoiler now. Additional sanctions or restrictive legislation enacted during the negotiation would blow up the talks, divide the international community, and cause the United States to be blamed for the failure to reach a deal — putting us in a much weaker position and endangering the sanctions regime itself,” she said. “Meanwhile, the Iranians are well aware that if they walk away from a deal, Congress will pass new sanctions immediately — and President Obama will support them.”
Rice said at the beginning of her speech “all options on the table” — but toward the end of her speech maintained “there’s simply no alternative that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon better — or longer — than the type of deal we seek.”
“Sound bites won’t stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” she said. “Strong diplomacy – backed by pressure – can. And, if diplomacy fails, let’s make it clear to the world that it is Iran’s responsibility.”
Obama’s advisor also tried to walk back her boss’ characterization of the “violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”
“And, when anti-Semitism rears its head around the world, when Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris are singled out and murdered by terrorists, when synagogues are attacked and cemeteries defaced, we have to call it by name,” Rice said. “It’s hate. It’s anti-Semitism. It reminds us of the most terrible chapters of human history. It has no place in a civilized world, and we have to fight it.”
After Rice’s speech, the White House released her remarks as prepared for delivery rather than as delivered. The transcripts issued by the administration with remarks as delivered include indications of where audiences applauded.