WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sunday that the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and that all options remain on the table to keep Iran from going nuclear.
"We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically," Obama said in an address at the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC's policy conference in Washington. "Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say."
"That includes all elements of American power. A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency."
Obama spoke shortly after President Shimon Peres told the same conference that "there is no space" between the U.S. and Israel on Iran policy.
"Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment," Obama said. "I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."
Obama criticized recent public speculation about the possibility of military action against Iran.
"Already, there is too much loose talk of war," Obama said. "Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend upon to fund their nuclear program. 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; now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built. Now is the time to heed that timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: speak softly, but carry a big stick."
Obama staunchly defended his administration's record on Israel, citing strong security and diplomatic assistance.
"The fact is, my administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented," Obama said. "Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every year. We are investing in new capabilities. We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology - the type of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies. And make no mistake: we will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge - because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat."
"When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it," Obama continued. "When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to help save them. When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back."
On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Obama called for continued pursuit of a two-state solution.
"I make no apologies for pursuing peace. Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of peace," Obama said. "Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, Defense Minister [Ehud] Barak, and President Peres – each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state."
"I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel’s security interest. The reality that Israel faces - from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment - demands a resolution of this issue. And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel’s founding values - because of our shared belief in self-determination; and because Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected."
Obama said that U.S. support for Israel should not be turned into a partisan issue.
"The U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics," Obama said. "America’s national security is too important. Israel’s security is too important."
Obama also announced that Peres will be presented later this spring with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.
"I am grateful for [Peres'] life work and his moral example," Obama said.