President Barack Obama says he is “absolutely committed to making sure” Israel maintains a military advantage over Iran.
His comments to The New York Times, published on Sunday, come amid criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the deal that the United States and five other world powers struck with Iran. Tehran agreed to halt the country’s nuclear ambitions, and in exchange, Western powers would drop sanctions that have hurt the Iran’s economy.
Obama said he understands and respects Netanyahu’s stance that Israel is particularly vulnerable and doesn’t “have the luxury of testing these propositions” in the deal.
“But what I would say to them is that not only am I absolutely committed to making sure they maintain their qualitative military edge, and that they can deter any potential future attacks, but what I’m willing to do is to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them,” Obama said.
That, he said, should be “sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table,” he said.
The framework negotiators announced last week would see Iran reduce its centrifuges from 19,000 to 5,060, limit the extent to which uranium necessary for nuclear weapons can be enriched and increase inspections. The talks over a final draft are scheduled to continue until June 30.
But Netanyahu and Republican critics in Congress have complained that Iran won’t have to shut down its nuclear facilities and that the country’s leadership isn’t trustworthy enough for the inspections to be as valuable as Obama says they are.
Obama said even if Iran can’t be trusted, there’s still a case to be made for the deal.
“In fact, you could argue that if they are implacably opposed to us, all the more reason for us to want to have a deal in which we know what they’re doing and that, for a long period of time, we can prevent them from having a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.