WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama cautioned against “bluster” and “loose talk of war” with Iran even as he assured U.S. supporters of Israel that he will use American military force if necessary to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
In an address heavy with election year defenses of his record, Obama argued Sunday that open talk of war in recent weeks has benefited the Iranian government by causing a run-up in the price of oil, Iran’s main export. He told an audience of thousands at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference that opponents of Iran’s nuclear program should wait to see the impact of new economic sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors, which take effect this summer.
“Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built,” Obama said. “Now is the time to heed that timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly. Carry a big stick.”
The admonishment against war talk seemed aimed primarily at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – with whom Obama is scheduled to meet today in Washington – Netanyahu’s backers in Congress and the Republican presidential candidates. Officials close to Netanyahu have hinted broadly at Israeli airstrikes against Iranian nuclear sites this year, and some prominent Republicans have chastised Obama for opposing that idea.
At the same time, Obama warned Iran that his preference for diplomacy is not as important as results. “When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say,” he said.
As he did in an interview released Friday, Obama emphasized that he would not accept “containment” – living with Iran having a nuclear weapon and hoping to deter its use – as a strategy.
“Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Obama also sought to bolster his position with pro-Israel voters by emphasizing his commitment to the country, proclaiming that in his three years in office, “at every crucial juncture, at every fork in the road, we have been there for Israel. Every single time.
“You don’t just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds,” he said, noting increased U.S. spending on defense aid to Israel, improved sharing by the two nations on intelligence and military matters, and his administration’s support during diplomatic crises in the Middle East.