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News | 'A Lot of Bluster, a Lot of Big Talk': Obama Slams GOP on Iran Rhetoric

by DAN GEIST

07 Mar 2012 03:30Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

ObamaPresser3-6.jpg3:30 a.m., 17 Esfand/March 7 At the White House Tuesday afternoon, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a press conference that turned repeatedly to the question of Iran and how to address the West's concerns that there may be a military dimension to the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Addressing criticisms from the Republican presidential candidates of his administration's efforts to ensure the Iranian regime does not develop a nuclear weapons arsenal, he stated,
[W]hat's said on the campaign trail -- those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander-in-chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war. I'm reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game. There's nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that's more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven't launched a war. If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so.

On the current position of the Islamic Republic's government, the president said, "Given the consequences of inaction for them, the severe sanctions that are now being applied, the huge toll it's taking on their economy, the degree of isolation that they're feeling right now -- which is unprecedented -- they understand that the world community means business. To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss in a clear and forthright way how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful. They know how to do that. This is not a mystery."

Earlier in the day, three of the four Republican candidates for president addressed the final day of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference, which Obama spoke to on Sunday. Rick Santorum addressed the AIPAC members in person, while Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich appeared via satellite. All three focused the bulk of their remarks on Iran, which they similarly characterized as a grave and present danger -- in Santorum's words, as "an existential threat not just to the state of Israel...but an existential threat to freedom-loving people around the world."

Concerning the Obama administration's efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear arms, Santorum declared, "I've seen a president who has been reticent. He says he has Israel's back. From everything I've seen...he has turned his back on Israel." He called Tuesday morning's announcement that the United States, along with the other members of the so-called P5+1 group -- Great Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany -- had agreed to a new round of nuclear negotiations with Iran,

another appeasement, another delay, another opportunity for them to go forward while we talk.... We need to do more than just talk. We need to set forth a clear ultimatum to the Iranian government. We need to say..., "The time is now. You will stop your nuclear production now. You will open up your facilities for inspectors from the United States and other countries so we can certify that those efforts are stopping and being dismantled now."... [I]f they do not tear down those facilities, we will tear down them ourselves.

Romney said, "I recognize in the ayatollahs of Iran the zealot refrain of 'dominion.' Their passion for the martyrdom of Arab youth is matched only by their cowardice in avoiding it for themselves. Nuclear ambition is pursued by Iran to dominate, to subjugate, to obliterate." He offered a novel interpretation of the stated position of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog group, when he asserted, "We may not know when Iran will secure sufficient fissile material to threaten the entire world, but the IAEA warns that that hour is fast approaching." Deriding the Obama administration's approach, he proclaimed, "Hope is not a foreign policy."

Romney took several questions via satellite after his speech; asked for specifics about what he would do to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, he proposed a "diplomatic isolation program" like that imposed on South Africa during the apartheid era, which he said would include indicting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under the international genocide convention. He added, "I would also station two aircraft carrier task forces in the region, one in the Mediterranean, one in the [Persian] Gulf, as well as other warships...so that Iran can see that we're at their doorstep."

Gingrich declared that on his first day as president, he would "initiate a strategy...to undermine and replace the Iranian dictatorship by every possible method short of war." He said he would "require no advance notice" if an Israeli prime minister decided to launch a preemptive strike on Iran. "In a Gingrich administration," he said, "we would not keep talking while the Iranians keep building. We would indicate clearly that their failure to stop their program is, in fact, crossing a red line. The red line is not the morning a bomb goes off. The red line is not the morning our intelligence community tells us they've failed once again. The red line is now." To enforce that red line, he declared, "We should move from strength," though he did not indicate clearly what that would entail.

A video of the AIPAC session, over two hours long, is available here at C-SPAN -- see under "Video Playlist" on the right. Santorum's remarks begin at the 19:34 mark; Romney's, at 51:12; Gingrich's, at 1:56:31. Embedded below is the C-SPAN video of Obama's press conference; a transcript of his comments concerning Iran follows.

Mike Viqueira (NBC News):

[O]n Iran, Mitt Romney, on Sunday, went so far as to say that if you are reelected, Iran will get a bomb and the world will change. How do you respond to those criticisms?

President Obama:

[...] When I came into office, Iran was unified, on the move, had made substantial progress on its nuclear program, and the world was divided in terms of how to deal with it. What we've been able to do over the last three years is mobilize unprecedented, crippling sanctions on Iran. Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way. The world is unified; Iran is politically isolated.

And what I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon -- because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists. And we've been in close consultation with all our allies, including Israel, in moving this strategy forward.

At this stage, it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That's not just my view. That's the view of our top intelligence officials; it's the view of top Israeli intelligence officials. And, as a consequence, we are going to continue to apply the pressure even as we provide a door for the Iranian regime to walk through where they could rejoin the community of nations by giving assurances to the international community that they're meeting their obligations and they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

That's my track record. Now, what's said on the campaign trail -- those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander-in-chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war. I'm reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game. There's nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that's more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven't launched a war. If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk. [...]

Jake Tapper (ABC News):

[...] What kind of assurances did you give Prime Minister Netanyahu about the role that the U.S. would play if diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to work to convince Iran's leaders to change their behavior, and Israel goes ahead and prepares to strike a nuclear facility? What kind of assurances did you tell him? And shouldn't we -- I recognize the difference between debate and bluster -- but shouldn't we be having in this country a vigorous debate about what could happen in the case of a Middle East war in a way that, sadly, we did not do before going into Iraq?

President Obama:

Well, I think there's no doubt that those who are suggesting, or proposing, or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be.

I'm not one of those people -- because what I've said is, is that we have a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully. We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table. And we've got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out.

I'm not going to go into the details of my conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. But what I said publicly doesn't differ greatly from what I said privately. Israel is a sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions about how best to preserve its security. And as I said over the last several days, I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any Prime Minister of Israel when they think about the potential threats to Israel and the Jewish homeland.

What I've also said is that because sanctions are starting to have significant effect inside of Iran -- and that's not just my assessment, that's, I think, a uniform assessment -- because the sanctions are going to be even tougher in the coming months, because they're now starting to affect their oil industry, their central bank, and because we're now seeing noises about them returning to the negotiating table, that it is deeply in everybody's interests -- the United States, Israel and the world's -- to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion.

And so this notion that somehow we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks, or month or two months, is not borne out by the facts. And the argument that we've made to the Israelis is that we have made an unprecedented commitment to their security. There is an unbreakable bond between our two countries, but one of the functions of friends is to make sure that we provide honest and unvarnished advice in terms of what is the best approach to achieve a common goal -- particularly one in which we have a stake. This is not just an issue of Israeli interest; this is an issue of U.S. interests. It's also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely. There are consequences to the United States as well.

And so I do think that any time we consider military action that the American people understand there's going to be a price to pay. Sometimes it's necessary. But we don't do it casually.

When I visit Walter Reed, when I sign letters to families that haven't -- whose loved ones have not come home, I am reminded that there is a cost. Sometimes we bear that cost. But we think it through. We don't play politics with it. When we have in the past -- when we haven't thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes. And typically, it's not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It's these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.

And as a consequence, I think it's very important for us to take a careful, thoughtful, sober approach to what is a real problem. And that's what we've been doing over the last three years. That's what I intend to keep doing. [...]

Tapper:

You might not be beating the drums of war, but you did very publicly say, we've got Israel's back. What does that mean?

President Obama:

What it means is, is that, historically, we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel, just like we do with a whole range of other allies -- just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan. And that broad statement I think is confirmed when you look at what we've done over the last three years on things like Iron Dome that prevents missiles from raining down on their small towns along border regions of Israel, that potentially land on schools or children or families. And we're going to continue that unprecedented security -- security commitment.

It was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action. It was a restatement of our consistent position that the security of Israel is something I deeply care about, and that the deeds of my administration over the last three years confirms how deeply we care about it. That's a commitment we've made. [...]

Jackie Calmes (New York Times):

With the news this morning that the U.S. and its allies are returning to the table, are taking up Iran's offer to talk again, more than a year after those talks broke up in frustration, is this Israel's -- Iran's last chance to negotiate an end to this nuclear question?

And you said three years ago -- nearly three years ago, in a similar one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that the time for talk -- by the end of that year, 2009, you would be considering whether Iran was negotiating in good faith. And you said at that time that "we're not going to have talks forever." So here we are nearly three years later. Is this it? And did you think you would be here three years after those first talks?

President Obama:

You know, there is no doubt that over the last three years when Iran has engaged in negotiations there has been hemming and hawing and stalling and avoiding the issues in ways that the international community has concluded were not serious. And my expectations, given the consequences of inaction for them, the severe sanctions that are now being applied, the huge toll it's taking on their economy, the degree of isolation that they're feeling right now -- which is unprecedented -- they understand that the world community means business.

To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss in a clear and forthright way how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful. They know how to do that. This is not a mystery. And so it's going to be very important to make sure that, on an issue like this -- there are complexities; it obviously has to be methodical. I don't expect a breakthrough in a first meeting, but I think we will have a pretty good sense fairly quickly as to how serious they are about resolving the issue.

And there are steps that they can take that would send a signal to the international community and that are verifiable, that would allow them to be in compliance with international norms, in compliance with international mandates, abiding by the non-proliferation treaty, and provide the world an assurance that they're not pursuing a nuclear weapon. They know how to do it, and the question is going to be whether in these discussions they show themselves moving clearly in that direction.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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