Obama to U.S. Rabbis: No Leader Wants His Hands Tied With Iran 'Red Lines'

In a conference call to 1,200 U.S. rabbis for Rosh Hashanah, the U.S. President said there was 'no daylight' between U.S. and Israel policy on Iran; meanwhile, Romney slams Obama's comment that Egypt is neither 'enemy or ally.'

Natasha Mozgovaya
Natasha Mozgovaya
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Natasha Mozgovaya
Natasha Mozgovaya

In a conference call for Rosh Hashanah organized by a number of U.S. Rabbinical associations, U.S. President Barack Obama referred to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comment about the lack of U.S. "red lines" on Iran, saying that "no leader wants to tie his hands" and set conditions.

Coming in the wake of his video message for the Jewish New Year, Obama spent about 40 minutes in the conference call with 1,200 U.S. rabbis.

The president, who was introduced by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, wished participants a happy and sweet New Year, but soon enough the conversation turned to the recent tensions between Washington and Jerusalem on Iran, and the U.S. administration's reluctance to set a red line to Iran on its nuclear program.

President Obama said that he has been explicit and clear that "we'll prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons," adding that "there is no daylight between Israel and U.S. positions on this."

Obama acknowledged the Israeli government's right to act in its own interest for self-defense, stressing that there may come a time for military action, "but not until we have exhausted all options," and that there is "still time and space for diplomacy."

The American leader added that his administration is monitoring the situation in Iran "extremely closely," and that leaders in Tehran "should have no doubt about our resolve." He argued that while the dual track strategy - economic sanctions and diplomacy - is working, the military option is still on the table.

Referring to Netanyahu's remarks expressing frustration on the differences over the "red line" to Iran, Obama argued that Netanyahu won't give an exact set of conditions either, because "no leader wants to tie his hands."

Hinting at the anti-American protests under way in the Middle East, Obama acknowledged there are "strains of extremism" in Islam, as well as anti-Semitism.

Romney vs. Obama's foreign policy

On Thursday, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's foreign advisor, former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Williamson, continued an attack against Obama on his calling the Egyptian regime in an interview to "Telemundo" neither an enemy, or an ally, a statement that was later clarified by the White House spokesman.

Williamson said “the president can’t even keep track of who’s our ally or not. This is amateur hour."

In an interview to "ABC," Romney himself seemed to circumvent Obama on the left, saying that calling Egypt "not an ally" is "obviously not a reflection of our official policy."

"American official policy is that Egypt is an ally of the United States," he said, adding that he "would like to bring Egypt closer to us. I think it’s important for them to understand that it’s an advantage to have a close relationship with the United States, to be an ally of the United States. And for that to continue, Egypt must honor their agreement with Israel, for peace with Israel," he said.

"Egypt must also respect the rights of minorities in their nation. And Egypt must also protect the lives and sovereignty of our embassy and of our installations in Egypt. These elements are all essential for us to have the kind of relationship we’ve had.”

This in essence is not much different from what Obama said in his interview, when he referred to the changes in the Egyptian government and the conditions for keeping a good relationship with the U.S.

During his hour-long talk on Tuesday with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama rejected again the request to spell out the U.S. administration "red line" to Iran.

But Mitt Romney, when asked by George Stephanopoulos to provide his red line, said: "My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon," repeating pretty much the Obama administration talking points on the topic.

"It is inappropriate for them to have the capacity to terrorize the world. Iran with a nuclear weapon or with fissile material that can be given to Hezbollah or Hamas or others has the potential of not just destabilizing the Middle East," he said.

There was a slight variation, however, with the inclusion of a possible direct threat to the U.S. from Hezbollah in Latin America.

"It could be brought here. Hezbollah, which has presence in Latin America can bring fissile material and threaten the United States by perhaps bringing it into the United States and suggesting they’d detonate it if we didn’t do certain things," he said.

"Iran as a nuclear nation is unacceptable to the United States of America. When one says that it’s unacceptable to the United States of America that that means what it says. You’ll take any action necessary to prevent that development, which is Iran becoming nuclear."

On specific steps he is ready to keep Iran from reaching that "red line,"
Romney said: "I said that crippling sanctions needed to be put in place immediately. Crippling sanctions such that their economy would be on its knees, at this point. That combined with standing up with Iranian dissidents, the president was silent, when dissidents took to the streets in Tehran. I would have spoken out in favor of representative government and against the Ahmadinejad regime. The president was silent. In addition, I think Ahmadinejad should have been indicted under the genocide conviction for incitation to genocide."

Still, Romney's definition of the red line falls short of the Israeli government's one, which sees mere Iran's capability for a fast breakthrough to produce nuclear weapon have the ayatollahs regime decided to do so, as a red line.

President Barack Obama walks from the Oval office to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012.Credit: AP



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