President Obama’s former national security adviser says the U.S. has no reason to apologize to Israel for its handling of Iran and notes that the U.S. has been able to “contain” other nations that have acquired nuclear weapons.
“The Israelis have been given very very strong assurances about their security by the United States, and I don’t think the United States has to apologize for anything on that score,” retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones told The Washington Times.
Gen. Jones, who was the national security adviser from 2009 to 2010, demurred when asked if he believes Mr. Obama would use force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms if all other measures fail.
“I don’t want to speculate on that, although I do believe the president is very serious about the fact that all options are on the table,” he said. “But he also is correct in calming the rhetoric down about the necessity to strike Iran while the sanctions are still having a positive effect.”
His comments underscore an increasingly public disagreement between Mr. Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how to counter Iran’s nuclear program.
The president has called for more time to allow diplomacy and economic sanctions against the Islamic republic to change its leaders’ behavior, while Mr. Netanyahu has mulled a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Last week, Mr. Netanyahu remarked that Iran had been a given “a freebie” because the West has not demanded that the Islamic republic suspend its enrichment of uranium.
The prime minister’s comment drew a sharp response from Mr. Obama. “The notion that somehow we’ve given something away or a ‘freebie’ would indicate Iran has gotten something,” he said. “In fact, they’ve got some of the toughest sanctions that they’re going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don’t take advantage of these talks.”
U.S. sanctions on Iran’s central bank are set to take full effect on June 28, and an embargo on Iranian oil by the European Union will come into force on July 1.
In addition, representatives of the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are to meet with Iranian negotiators about the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in Baghdad on May 23.
In his interview with The Times, Gen. Jones said he believes the president has the right approach. “Iran generally doesn’t do anything unless it’s being forced to do it,” he said.
What’s more, he said Iran’s willingness to participate in talks about its nuclear program is “indicative of the fact that the sanctions are having an effect.”
“I’m a little skeptical about their intentions,” Gen. Jones added, “but maybe one of these days, it will work out, so let’s think good thoughts.”
He also said that a nuclear-armed Iran would be highly undesirable but not necessarily impossible to deal with.
“You would have to think that, on the basis of historical evidence of nation-states once they acquire a [nuclear] capacity, we’ve been able to contain them,” the former national security adviser said.
“It’s not something that I think you would want to do,” he said. “We’d like to see proliferation go the other way. We don’t want more nuclear-weapons capable countries, and in Iran’s case, it’s particularly problematic because they traditionally export terror.”
Iran has claimed that its nuclear program is designed only for peaceful purposes, despite reports by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency that it has engaged in activities indicative of the production of atomic weapons.
Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat because of the Islamic republic’s call for the destruction of the Jewish state and its support of the Islamist militant groups Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which have frequently attacked Israel.
Mr. Netanyahu, who often invokes the Holocaust to accentuate the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, has stressed that time is running out to stop Iran with military force - particularly for Israel, whose lesser air-force capabilities give it a narrower window of opportunity than the United States.
Mr. Obama, who has unsuccessfully sought assurances from Mr. Netanyahu that he will refrain from attacking Iran before November’s elections, said last month that he believes an “opportunity still remains for diplomacy, backed by pressure, to succeed.”
Despite the problems of a nuclear-armed Iran, Gen. Jones said the U.S. needs to be ready for one.
“We should always be preparing for the worst-case scenario,” he said.