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President Obama urged Israel and its most ardent American
supporters Sunday to refrain from bellicose rhetoric toward Iran and to allow
time for stiff economic sanctions to work against the Islamic republic’s
As threats of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear
program increase, Obama argued that a military operation now would only
strengthen Iran’s fragile diplomatic position and would fail to end its uranium
enrichment program permanently.
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Acknowledging that Iran’s clerical leadership may not
respond to economic pressure, Obama assured the large audience of concerned
Israeli supporters that he is willing to use “all elements of American power”
to prevent the Islamic republic from developing a nuclear weapon. But, he said,
diplomacy must first be allowed to run its course.
“For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and
the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster,” Obama
told the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee, or AIPAC, a powerful lobbying group. “Now is the time to let our
increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition
that we have built.”
Obama’s public argument for patience stands as a likely
preview of the message he will deliver privately Monday when he meets with
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
In a statement following Obama’s remarks, Netanyahu said he
“very much appreciated” the president’s “position that Iran must not be allowed
to develop nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table.”
He added: “Perhaps most important of all, I appreciated the
fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against
Obama’s AIPAC speech begins a critical week for his
diplomacy to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions and assure Israel, America’s
closest ally in the Middle East, that he can be trusted to act in its security
Israel has concluded that Iran’s leadership has decided to
pursue a nuclear weapon, and international inspectors have uncovered evidence
to suggest a military intent for a program that Iran claims is meant only for
civilian power purposes.
The Obama administration is not convinced that Iran’s
leaders have decided to develop a weapon, although U.S. diplomats have worked
with European allies to implement oil and banking sanctions against Iran until
it gives up its uranium enrichment program.
Those sanctions will take full effect this summer, and
administration officials have said that their intent, in part, is to foment
public unrest inside Iran that may force the country’s leadership to rethink
the value of its nuclear program.
Obama is managing the Iranian nuclear issue during an
election year when his Republican rivals have called his leadership abroad weak
and his support for Israel suspect. He is also facing the political threat
posed by rising gasoline prices, which analysts say could skyrocket if war
breaks out between Israel and Iran in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region.