The U.S. presidential election is only a few days away, and there are still thousands of voters trying to pick a candidate. To aid undecided voters, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) produced a very clear survey in which each candidate was asked to answer various questions on their prospective courses of action regarding certain international issues. This article will review the questions directly relating to Iran and Israel, and will focus on the answers of incumbent President Barack Obama. Governor Mitt Romney’s answers will be discussed in a follow up article tomorrow.
The first question of the survey, made up of several sub-questions, dealt with Iran and how the president is going to handle the current urgent nuclear threat, countries that are resistant to tightening sanctions on the Muslim theocracy, and what he would do should Iran crosses the threshold beyond which sanctions and diplomacy can no longer be expected to work.
President Obama answered the same way that he has consistently answered such questions. He stated that his administration has succeeded in isolating the rogue nation, that the sanctions his government has helped put in place are crippling, and that he is not afraid to use military might if necessary.
“When I came into office, Iran’s leadership was united and on the rise in the region, while the international community was divided about how to confront Tehran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Today, because of concrete steps that I and my Administration have taken, Iran is under greater pressure and more isolated than ever.”
Obama continued, “We have led the international community in putting in place the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions in history on Iran. We secured the support of Russia and China for these sanctions, making them even more effective and biting, and have since built a broad international coalition that has targeted the Iranian banking, petroleum, and petro-chemical sectors. Our diplomacy has succeeded in getting every major importer of Iranian oil to significantly reduce their purchases – including a total European Union oil embargo; however, we consistently review our sanctions, and will not hesitate to impose consequences on those actors who do not comply with our sanctions regime.”
“I’ve been absolutely clear that containment is not my policy, and that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. I am prepared to use all elements of American power to do so, including a political effort to further isolate Iran, a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition, an economic effort that has imposed crippling sanctions, and a military effort to be prepared for any contingency,” answered the president.
His steadfastness to sanctions and diplomacy has put Obama in hot water with some rightwing hawks and many in the Jewish community. But the majority of Americans do not want to go to war, and Obama’s policies have thus far not created any major hurdles in his campaign.
The constituents that have criticized Obama’s Iran policies are the same ones who have accused the President of “throwing Israel under the bus.” Answering a question about the state of the Israel-US relationship and its importance, the president predictably answered that the alliance is unbreakable and built on shared norms and values, and that he is committed to the Jewish nation’s safety and security.
AJC asked, “In 2011, the Palestinians moved unilaterally to seek U.N. recognition of statehood, affirming their reluctance to negotiate directly with Israel. How should the U.S. engage with the Palestinians regarding their U.N. initiatives for recognition, and the stalled peace process? What should U.S. policy be regarding rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah?”
The president strongly answered, “Last year, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly to address the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition of statehood. I believe now, as I did then, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. However, I continue to believe that lasting peace will only come from direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians themselves and not from unilateral Palestinian actions at the United Nations. That is why I made it clear that there can be no short-cuts to peace, and called on the world to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns as a Jewish, democratic state.”
“We cannot impose peace or any final status details on the Israelis and Palestinians. Ultimately, it is up to the two parties to take action. Final status issues can only be resolved by the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. What we can do is state frankly what is widely known: that a lasting peace will involve two sovereign, independent states. And I am convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. However, my Administration has made it clear that Israelis cannot be expected to negotiate with a partner that refuses to recognize its right to exist. That’s why it’s imperative that Hamas abides by the Quartet conditions to renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.”
On the topics of Iran and Israel the president has been very consistent in his views and positions. In 2011 the president unilaterally stepped up in defense of Israel and against unilateral statehood for the Palestinians. It was a hugely unpopular move in the international community, but has somehow gone unnoticed by many pro-Israel Americans.
For Governor Romney’s responses to the same questions, be sure to check out tomorrow’s article.
Rob Lattin is Jspace News' Foreign Affairs Correspondent. In addition to covering foreign affairs for Jspace, Rob is a blogger on Israeli and Middle Eastern foreign policy for the Foreign Policy Association, as well as a freelance writer. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.