President Barack Obama still believes that "an opportunity remains for diplomacy" with the Iranian regime, which continues to enrich uranium and refuses to answer basic questions about its disputed nuclear program.
"I firmly believe that an opportunity remains for diplomacy—backed by pressure—to succeed," Obama told more than 13,000 attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference. "The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program."
Economic sanctions are beginning to wear the regime down, Obama said, noting that there is still time for Iran to join the international "community of nations."
"Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July—thanks to our diplomatic coordination—a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold," Obama said. "Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end."
The president added: "Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime. They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011."
At the end of the day, Obama said, "the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons."
Obama also expressed his reluctance to send American troops into war with Iran.
"I only use force when the time and circumstances demand it," he said. "And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country."
The president added that both America and Israel "prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically."
However, the so-called "military option" against Iran still remains "on the table," Obama said.
"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," he said. "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."
Nuclear containment is not a viable option, the president said.
"Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama said. "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."
While military intervention remains an option for the administration, the president chastised what he termed "too much loose talk of war."
Such rhetoric "has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend upon to fund their nuclear program," Obama said. "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."
Obama also defended his pro Israel bona fides, claiming that he "has Israel’s back." He added that criticism of his record on Israel is not supported by facts.
"The fact is, my administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented," Obama said. "So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back."
Obama lashed out at critics who question his commitment to Israel.
"If during this political season you hear some question my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts," Obama said. "And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics. America’s national security is too important. Israel’s security is too important."
The president also defended his unsuccessful attempts to foster a peace negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians.
"I make no apologies for pursuing peace," he said. "Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister 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."
The president also said that differences remain between the United States and the Jewish state.
"We may not agree on every issue," he said. "No two nations do."