President Obama sat down with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg to talk about Iran and nukes in a more sustained way than I’ve ever seen before. Here’s a snippet:
GOLDBERG: Go back to this language, ‘All options on the table.’….The impression we get is that the Israeli government thinks this is a vague expression that’s been used for so many years. Is there some ramping-up of the rhetoric you’re going to give them?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the Israeli people understand it, I think the American people understand it, and I think the Iranians understand it….I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say. Let describe very specifically why this is important to us.
In addition to the profound threat that it poses to Israel….it is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons. So now you have the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world, one that is rife with unstable governments and sectarian tensions. And it would also provide Iran the additional capability to sponsor and protect its proxies in carrying out terrorist attacks, because they are less fearful of retaliation.
….GOLDBERG: Do you see accidental nuclear escalation as an issue?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely. Look, the fact is, I don’t think any of it would be accidental. I think it would be very intentional. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I won’t name the countries, but there are probably four or five countries in the Middle East who say, “We are going to start a program, and we will have nuclear weapons.” And at that point, the prospect for miscalculation in a region that has that many tensions and fissures is profound. You essentially then duplicate the challenges of India and Pakistan fivefold or tenfold.
….GOLDBERG: ….There have been disagreements between Israel and the U.S. before, but this is coming to a head about what the Israelis see as an existential issue. The question is: In your mind, have you brought arguments to Netanyahu that have so far worked out well?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: ….One of the things that I like to remind them of is that every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept. I mean, part of your — not to put words in your mouth — but part of the underlying question is: Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?
In four words, Obama says the U.S. approach toward the Middle East is: “We’ve got Israel’s back.” And he’s obviously pretty pissed off over the political footsie with Republicans that Benjamin Netanyahu has been playing. Obama may have Israel’s back, but it looks like his upcoming visit with Netanyahu will be, in the usual diplo-speak, “frank and productive.”