President Barack Obama defended an interim deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program, and seeking to reassure Israel, he pledged to step up sanctions or prepare for a potential military strike if Tehran fails to abide by the pact.
Obama, speaking at a forum hosted by Haim Saban, a major political donor, made a point of referring to Netanyahu as “my friend Bibi,” acknowledging they occasionally had “significant tactical” disagreements.
The president said he viewed the likelihood of a satisfactory “end state” as a 50–50 proposition, and repeated that all options remain on the table if Iran does not follow through with its obligations.
“If we cannot get the kind of comprehensive end state that satisfies us and the world community … then the pressure that we’ve been applying on them and the options that I have made clear I can avail myself of, including a military option, is one that we would consider and prepare for,” he said.
Obama said it was unrealistic to believe that Iran would halt and dismantle its nuclear program if the sanctions regime were strengthened and talks were not given a chance to succeed.
“One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, ‘We’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone.’ I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward. I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful,” he said to laughter from the audience.
“But precisely because we don’t trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves: What puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran’s not having a nuclear weapon … what is required to accomplish that and how does that compare to other options that we might take?”
A day after Obama spoke to the forum, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged the United States and other world powers to demand that Iran change its “genocidal” anti-Israel policy in negotiations with Tehran.
Netanyahu, speaking via satellite link from Yerushalayim, warned: “The jury is still out. Iran is perilously close to crossing the nuclear threshold.”
Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, in reaction to Obama’s remarks, said the two countries needed to resolve their differences on the issue.
“It must be made clear: In the final agreement, Iran must not have the capability to produce nuclear weapons. In order to ensure this, Iran must not have any capability to enrich uranium or to produce plutonium,” Steinitz said.