(WASHINGTON) — Speaking before the annual conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday, President Obama rebuffed calls from the Israeli government and its supporters to more starkly warn Iran against building a nuclear weapon, instead urging them to allow time for diplomatic pressures to work.
The president also assailed “loose talk of war,” which he said only helped Iran.
“I firmly believe that an opportunity remains for diplomacy — backed by pressure — to succeed,” Obama said, adding that “the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists.”
Detailing the various ways the sanctions programs have been effective in squeezing the Iranian regime, the president insisted that “the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons. That’s what history tells us.”
Obama asked the audience to “remember the weightiness of these issues; the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war,” which he said only helped the Iranian government by driving up petroleum prices.
“Now is not the time for bluster,” he said. “Now is the time to heed that timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
In a message more tailored for his domestic audience than the leaders of Israel sitting before him — especially Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netahyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak — Obama, who won the presidency promising to end the war in Iraq, noted his “deeply-held preference for peace over war.”
Referring to wounded U.S. troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan, he said it was “part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.”
After asking for breathing room, Obama made remarks more along the lines of what Netanyahu may have hoped, noting that “Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States. … I have said that 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.”
That includes all ways American power could be leveraged, he said: political, diplomatic, and economic efforts, “and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”
Speaking to a more international audience, Obama said, “Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
The president pledged that he would “not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”
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