Iran can produce a nuclear weapon in just over a year and diplomatic efforts have just less than that to halt Iran’s drive to the bomb, US President Barack Obama said Thursday, intimating that should diplomatic efforts fail this year or early next year, America will be forced to carry out military action against Iran.
Contrary to statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the moment of truth concerning Iran’s nuclear program was spring 2013, Obama said that the US estimates that Iran can produce a bomb only in about a year given its current rate of progress.
“There is a window, not an infinite period of time, a window of time where we can resolve this diplomatically,” Obama said. “Right now we think that it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but we obviously don’t want to cut it too close.”
Speaking in an interview on Israel’s Channel 2, ahead of his three-day visit to Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories next week, Obama emphasized that he has been “crystal clear” that a nuclear-armed Iran was a “red line,” and that the US was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon with which it could threaten Israel or trigger a regional arms race.
Though he said he prefers a diplomatic resolution to the international standoff with Iran over its unsanctioned nuclear program, Obama said that strikes on Iranian military targets remain on the table.
“If we can resolve it diplomatically, that’s a more lasting solution,” Obama said, but added: “When I that say all options are on the table, all options are on the table. And the US obviously has significant capabilities.”
“We’ve set up the toughest sanctions ever; it’s having a significant effect… on Iran’s economy, but that has an impact in terms of how they think about both the costs and benefits of pursuing a nuclear program,” the president said.
“They’re not yet at the point, I think, where they’ve made a fundamental decision to get right with the international community and the IAEA and the UN resolutions that they’ve been violating, but I do think that they’re recognizing that there’s a severe cost for them to continue down the path that they’re on, and that there’s a door open.”
Iran “could be very successful if they ended up having a different attitude with respect to their neighbors, with respect to state sponsoring of terrorism, and with respect to their nuclear program,” Obama said.
The president said that Washington was in “constant coordination with the Israeli government” concerning Iran and a variety of other issues, and that he is in close consultation with Netanyahu — to whom he consistently referred by his informal moniker, “Bibi.” He said the two have a “terrific, businesslike relationship.”
Despite differences in opinion between what he termed a center-left American government and a more right-wing Israeli government, Obama said the two sides “always get issues resolved.”
As to whether his new cabinet — particularly Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of State Chuck Hagel — would support military action against Iran while the US is still bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said Kerry and Hagel “share my fundamental view” that a nuclear-armed Iran runs against US and Israeli national interests.
“I believe my cabinet is prepared for a whole range of contingencies,” he said.
Concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama said that “it’s hard right now” to bring the two sides together for direct talks because of the Israeli coalition formation. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have done “excellent work” maintaining security in the West Bank and keeping to nonviolence.
“But you also have Hamas in Gaza and that obviously has been a chaotic situation” and hasn’t met the Quartet preconditions and come to the table with Israel, he pointed out.
“My goal on this trip is to listen,” he said, having already indicated that he doesn’t intend to present a new peace initiative during his three days in the region.
“It is profoundly in the interests of both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people to get this resolved, in part because the environment has changed so drastically.”
“Because of the Arab Spring you have a situation in which Israel can’t count on just a few autocrats holding everything together in the neighborhood. Israel has an interest in being able to speak to the Arab street,” he said. “The only solution is for each side to recognize the legitimate interests of the other.”
Obama said he intends to tell Netanyahu that it’s in his interest to strengthen Palestinian moderates like Abbas. He said the time for steps and preconditions has passed and that “everybody knows what’s going to be involved here in setting up two states side-by-side living in peace and security,” at the core of which stand Palestinian self-determination and Israeli security.
The president also said that, although he recognizes the emotions involved in Jonathan Pollard’s continued imprisonment, he would not immediately release the convicted spy.