The PJ Tatler

Obama on Israel Relationship: 'My Best Friends Are the Ones I Can Be Honest With' If 'I Think They're Wrong'

President Obama argued for the Iran nuclear deal in a webcast to the Jewish community today, saying that Iran won’t be spending their sanctions-relief windfall on anything nefarious that they haven’t already been doing.

The event was hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and The Jewish Federations of North America, which earlier in the month heard from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Iran is a regional power; it’s not a superpower. The money that they’re obtaining is money that has been frozen under sanctions. They will get about $56 billion back, but they’re going to have to spend that to prop up an economy that’s been crushed by our sanctions,” Obama said. “Their economy will improve modestly, but there’s no analysis that’s been done by our experts that suggest that they are going to have a qualitatively different capacity to engage in some of the nefarious activities that they’ve done before.”

Obama took questions, and the first one posed to him was about opponents of the deal being called warmongers. “At no point have I ever suggested, for example, that somebody is a warmonger, meaning they want war,” he claimed.

“But in all this debate, what’s important to remember is that we’re all pro-Israel and we’re all family. And the Jewish members in Congress who are supporting this deal — I don’t need to give you their bio — I think they feel a commitment to Israel and having knowledge of the Jewish history that rivals anyone else’s. And those in my administration who care deeply about this issue and who are supporting this deal, their motives shouldn’t be questioned,” he said.

“And those who oppose it, my view is, is that they have a sincere concern because, just as the people in Israel have a sincere concern, when you have a regime that denies the Holocaust, that’s going to make you worried. You got to take that seriously. And so I recognize where the anxieties come from. But I think that it’s important for us to remember the bonds that hold us together more than — that go well beyond this particular issue.”

Obama added that he expects a revitalized relationship with Israel “pretty quick” after the deal goes into force.

“I’ve heard some suggest that the reason I’m calling for all this enhanced cooperation is to compensate for the fact that Iran is going to be more dangerous after this deal. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are things that I’ve been suggesting we need to be doing consistently,” he said. “And we will be much safer once this deal is in place and we know that Iran is not getting a nuclear weapon. But it doesn’t solve all the problems we have with Iran. And Israel knows that; we know that. So those conversations I think will move rapidly and I think they will move smoothly.”

On his relationship with Israel: “Sometimes I have arguments with friends and sometimes I have different views. What I’ve found after 54 years on this Earth is that my best friends are the ones who I can be honest with. And if I think that they’re wrong on something, I got to be able to say it. And if they think I’m wrong, they’ve got to be able to give voice to it. That’s what being good friends means.”

“…Does this deal solve every problem that we have with Iran? Not even close. Does it solve the biggest one that would cause what Prime Minister Netanyahu and others called an existential threat to Israel? That it does do.”