US President Barack Obama has warned a powerful pro-Israel lobby about the dangers of “loose talk of war” with Iran, but said he would not hesitate to use force to defend his country’s interests.
Obama, addressing the annual American-Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) policy conference on Sunday, said Israel, which has been widely reported to be considering a preliminary strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, had the right to make its own decisions about its security needs.
But he said the US preferred to use diplomacy to resolve the standoff with Tehran, called on Israel to allow time for Western sanctions to take effect and warned of the dangers to world peace of further ratcheting up tensions with Iran.
Western powers accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran, which has yet to respond to Obama’s comments, maintains that its nuclear programme is peaceful.
“Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear programme,” Obama said.
“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.
Quoting former US president Theodore Roosevelt, Obama said he would “speak softly, but carry a big stick… And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve and that our co-ordination with Israel will continue.”
Obama’s speech came one day before he meets at the White House with Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, who is also due to address AIPAC on Monday.
Netanyahu: Containment not an option
Speaking in Canada before his visit to Washington for talks with Obama on Monday, Netanyahu expressed satisfaction that Obama had refused to rule out using military force against Iran.
|Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane reports from the annual AIPAC conference in Washington DC|
“I very much appreciated the fact that President Obama reiterated his position that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table,” Netanyahu told reporters in Ottawa.
“I also appreciated the fact that he made clear that when it comes to nuclear-armed Iran, containment is simply not an option,” the Israeli premier said.
“Equally and in my judgment perhaps most important of all, I appreciate the fact that he said Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” Netanyahu said.
An AIPAC spokesman, Patrick Dorton, said the group welcomed Obama’s remarks and “his strong resolve to work with Israel to solve the Iranian challenge.”
AIPAC is also due to hear from three Republican presidential candidates – Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich – on Tuesday, a critical day in the primary campaign when 10 states vote in the race to find a challenger to Obama in the November election.
Addressing Jewish voters in the US as much as AIPAC delegates, Obama said his administration’s commitment to Israel should be judged by its deeds, rather than his words.
“Over the last three years, as president of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture at every fork in the road we have been there for Israel. Every single time,” Obama said.
In response to Obama’s AIPAC speech, Jordan warned that any military action against Iran over its nuclear programme would be “disastrous” for the whole Middle East.
“Any military action against Iran will have a disastrous impact on the entire region, which cannot afford to go through more wars,” Awn Khasawneh, the Jordanian prime minister, told a group of visiting Turkish members of parliament.
“Any solution to the Iranian issue should be diplomatic. War on Iran will drag the region backwards… for decades,” the state-run Petra quoted the premier as saying.