President Obama acknowledged Saturday that he’d prefer to see a much harsher agreement with Iran, one that not only shuts down the Middle Eastern nation’s nuclear program entirely but also eliminates all of its “military capabilities.”
Such an option, however, isn’t on the table and is simply unrealistic, the president said, which is why critics of the recent deal with Iran — both domestically and across the globe, particularly in Israel — should be content with what has been achieved thus far.
“If we could create an option in which Iran eliminated every single nut and bolt of their nuclear program and foreswore the possibility of ever having a nuclear program, and for that matter, got rid of all of its military capabilities, I would take it. But that particular option is not available,” Mr. Obama said Saturday at a Brookings Institution forum dedicated to the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, which has come under some strain as Israeli officials decry the deal reached between Iran, the U.S. and its international partners.
“We have to make a decision as to, given the options available, what is the best way for us to assure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon?” the president continued. “And the best way for us to assure it is for us to test this [diplomatic] path, understanding it is not based on trust. It’s based on what we can verify.”
Several times throughout the 45-minute event, the president stressed that neither he nor other high-ranking U.S. officials take the Iranian government at its word, despite the election of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, perceived to be more open to diplomacy than his predecessor.
By underlining that America doesn’t trust Iran, Mr. Obama clearly wants to calm fear and anger in Israel.
Israeli leaders argue the U.S. and its allies in the so-called “P5 plus one” — which consists of the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have made a costly blunder by negotiating and striking a deal with Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also will address Brookings’ forum this weekend, called the deal a “historic mistake.”
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But Mr. Obama disagreed and said that abandoning the diplomatic route would increase the chances of Iran obtaining nuclear bombs.
“I think it is important for everybody to understand this [negotiating process] is hard. The technology of the nuclear cycle — you can get it off the Internet,” the president said. “The knowledge of how to create a nuclear weapon is already out there and Iran is a large country and it is a relatively wealthy country, so we have to take seriously the possibility they are going to try to get a nuclear weapon. That’s what this whole exercise is about.”
Under the deal agreed to in Geneva last month, Iran will roll back key parts of its nuclear program, specifically those related to highly enriched uranium. Iranian leaders also will grant international inspectors unprecedented access to nuclear facilities, part of the Obama administration’s insistence that the agreement be fully verifiable and subject to constant and rigorous oversight.
In exchange, the U.S. has lifted some economic sanctions against Iran, freeing up roughly $7 billion in previously frozen assets for the Middle Eastern nation.
The preliminary agreement is in effect for six months. At the end of that period, the two sides will sit down again and try and hammer out a longer-term deal.
Despite the concern in Israel, Mr. Obama said the relationship between the U.S. and its historic regional ally remain as strong as ever.
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“The United States’ military cooperation with Israel has never been stronger. Our intelligence cooperation with Israel has never been stronger. Our support of Israel’s security has never been stronger,” Mr. Obama said.
The president also addressed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, expressing optimism that a deal can be reached sometime in the near future.
“There are people of good will on both sides that recognize the status quo is not sustainable over the long term,” he said. “And as a consequence, it is in the interest of both the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve this issue.”