At Presser, Obama Highlights Major Differences with Israel

March 6, 2012

Less than a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that diplomacy and economic sanctions have failed to stop Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons, President Barack Obama doubled down on his belief that there is still time to work through diplomatic channels.

"It's my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically," Obama said in his first press conference of the year. "That is not just my view, that is the view of our top intelligence officials; it's the view of top Israeli intelligence officials. And as a result, we will continue to apply pressure, even as we give Iran a door to walk through to rejoin the international community."

The president also insisted "sanctions are starting to have significant effect inside of Iran." He added that those who are "beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be. I'm not one of those people."

In contrast, in his speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference Monday evening, Netanyahu said that diplomacy and sanctions have failed.

"We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer," Netanyahu said, adding that rather than discussing the costs of war, "I think we ought to start talking about the costs of not stopping Iran."

In his press conference today, Obama also refused to explain what he means when he employs the phrase, "we have Israel’s back." When pressed by ABC’s Jake Tapper on the meaning of that phrase, the president discussed the "historical" nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship, failing to mention the threat of a nuclear Iran.

"Historically, we have always cooperated with Israel, with respect to the defense of Israel," Obama said. "That broad statement I think is confirmed when you look at what we have done over the last three years on things like Iron Dome, that prevent missiles from raining down on towns on the border regions in Israel, that land on schools or children or families—and we will continue that unprecedented security commitment."

Obama added that "it was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action" against Iran.

Though the president touted his staunch support for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs, the WFB was first to report that the president has taken heat from members of his own party for proposing to cut the amount of money the U.S. contributes to these initiatives.