At quitting time Friday, I post a link to a New Republic piece suggesting that Israel P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu was looking for a firm, public commitment from Pres. Obama that the U.S. would go beyond “all-option-on-the-table” and use military means if necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
Since then, I’ve read a remarkable interview with Obama by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine in which, to my surprise, Obama came pretty close to that. I urge you to read the whole thing. It’s long and the quality of both the questions and the answers is breathtaking. And, obviously, Obama chose this interview to announce the message he wants Netanyahu, Iran, the world and us, his constituents, to hear.
Here’s a taste:
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: From what we understand, Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to ask you for some specific enunciations of red lines, for specific promises related to the Iranian nuclear program. What is your message to the prime minister going to be? What do you want to get across to him?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: First of all, it’s important to say that I don’t know exactly what the prime minister is going to be coming with. We haven’t gotten any indication that there is some sharp “ask” that is going to be presented. Both the United States and Israel have been in constant consultation about a very difficult issue, and that is the prospect of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is something that has been one of my top five foreign-policy concerns since I came into office.
We, immediately upon taking over, mapped out a strategy that said we are going to mobilize the international community around this issue and isolate Iran to send a clear message to them that there is a path they can follow that allows them to rejoin the community of nations, but if they refused to follow that path, that there would be an escalating series of consequences.
Three years later, we can look back and say we have been successful beyond most people’s expectations. When we came in, Iran was united and on the move, and the world was divided about how to address this issue. Today, the world is as united as we’ve ever seen it around the need for Iran to take a different path on its nuclear program, and Iran is isolated and feeling the severe effects of the multiple sanctions that have been placed on it.
At the same time, we understand that the bottom line is: Does the problem get solved? And I think that Israel, understandably, has a profound interest not just in good intentions but in actual results. And in the conversations I’ve had over the course of three years, and over the course of the last three months and three weeks, what I’ve emphasized is that preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn’t just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States, and that when I say we’re not taking any option off the table, we mean it. We are going to continue to apply pressure until Iran takes a different course.
GOLDBERG: Go back to this language, ‘All options on the table.’ You’ve probably said it 50 or 100 times. And a lot of people believe it, but the two main intended audiences, the supreme leader of Iran and the prime minister of Israel, you could argue, don’t entirely trust this. The impression we get is that the Israeli government thinks this is a vague expression that’s been used for so many years. Is there some ramping-up of the rhetoric you’re going to give them?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the Israeli people understand it, I think the American people understand it, and I think the Iranians understand it. It means a political component that involves isolating Iran; it means an economic component that involves unprecedented and crippling sanctions; it means a diplomatic component in which we have been able to strengthen the coalition that presents Iran with various options through the P-5 plus 1 and ensures that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is robust in evaluating Iran’s military program; and it includes a military component. And I think people understand that.
I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.