Transcript: Obama’s remarks on Iran
Excerpt from White House press briefing held on March 6, 2012 – President Barack Obama on Iran:
Response to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s criticisms of U.S. policy toward Iran:
“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.”
On whether the U.S. will take military action against Iran:
“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.”
Clarification of Obama’s earlier statement “We’ve got Israel’s back”:
“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.”
On whether Iran is negotiating in good faith:
“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.”
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: President Barack Obama’s press conference on March 6, 2012
- WhiteHouse.gov: Video of President Obama’s press conference on March 6, 2012