Reaction of President Obama to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Speech

I did not have a chance to watch Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech — I was on a video conference with our European partners with respect to Ukraine.  I did have a chance to take a look at the transcript and as far as I can tell, there was nothing new.

The Prime Minister appropriately pointed out that the bond between the United States of America is unbreakable, and on that point I thoroughly agree. He also pointed out that Iran has been a dangerous regime and continues to engage in activities that are contrary to the interests of the United States, to Israel, and to the region. And on that, we agree. He also pointed out the fact that Iran has repeatedly threatened Israel and engaged in the most venomous of anti-Semitic statements.  And no one can dispute that.

But on the core issue, which is how do we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would make it far more dangerous and would give it scope for even greater action in the region, the Prime Minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives. So let’s be clear about what exactly the central concern should be, both for the United States and for Israel.

I’ve said since before I became President that one of my primary goals in foreign policy would be preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And with the help of Congress and our international partners, we constructed an extraordinarily effective sanctions regime that pressured Iran to come to the table to negotiate in a serious fashion. They have now been negotiating over the last year, and during that period, Iran has, in fact, frozen its program, rolled back some of its most dangerous highly enriched uranium, and subjected itself to the kinds of verifications and inspections that we had not previously seen.  Keep in mind that when we shaped that interim deal, Prime Minister Netanyahu made almost the precise same speech about how dangerous that deal was going to be. And yet, over a year later, even Israeli intelligence officers and, in some cases, members of the Israeli government, have to acknowledge that, in fact, it has kept Iran from further pursuing its nuclear program.

Now, the deal that we are trying to negotiate that is not yet completed would cut off the different pathways for Iran to advance its nuclear capabilities.  It would roll back some elements of its program.  It would ensure that it did not have what we call a breakout capacity that was shorter than a year’s time.  And it would subject Iran to the most vigorous inspections and verifications regimes that have ever been put in place.

And the alternative that the Prime Minister offers is no deal, in which case Iran will immediately begin once again pursuing its nuclear program, accelerate its nuclear program, without us having any insight into what they’re doing, and without constraint. And his essential argument is that if we just double down on sanctions, Iran won’t want to do that.

Well, we have evidence from the past decade that sanctions alone are not sufficient to prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. And if it, in fact, does not have some sense that sanctions will be removed, it will not have an interest in avoiding the path that it’s currently on.

So the bottom line is this:  We don’t yet have a deal.  It may be that Iran cannot say yes to a good deal. I have repeatedly said that I would rather have no deal than a bad deal. But if we’re successful in negotiating, then, in fact, this will be the best deal possible to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Nothing else comes close.  Sanctions won’t do it.  Even military action would not be as successful as the deal that we have put forward.

And I think it is very important not to be distracted by the nature of the Iranian regime’s ambitions when it comes to territory or terrorism — all issues which we share a concern with Israel about and are working consistently with Israel on.  Because we know that if, in fact, they obtain a nuclear weapon, all those problems would be worse.

So we’re staying focused on the central issue here: How do we prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The path that we’ve proposed, if successful, by far is the best way to do that. That’s demonstrable.  And Prime Minister Netanyahu has not offered any kind of viable alternative that would achieve the same verifiable mechanism to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

So I would urge the members of Congress who were there to continue to express their strong support for Israel’s security, to continue to express their strong interest in providing the assistance Israel needs to repel attacks.  I think it’s important for members of Congress, on a bipartisan basis, to be unified in pushing back against terrorism in the region and the destabilizing efforts that Iran may have engaged in with our partners.  Those are all things in which this administration and Israel agree.

But when it comes to this nuclear deal, let’s wait until there’s actually a deal on the table that Iran has agreed to, at which point everybody can evaluate it; we don’t have to speculate.  And what I can guarantee is that if it’s a deal I’ve signed off on, I will be able to prove that it is the best way for us to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

And for us to pass up on that potential opportunity would be a great mistake. It’s not one that I intend to make, and I will take that case to every member of Congress once we actually have a deal.