J Street’s Reaction to President Obama’s Position on Iran

March 5, 2012

WASHINGTON — J Street shares the widely-held view that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is a vital security interest shared by Israel, the United States and the world.

We commend President Obama’s sensible approach to this urgent problem outlined in his speech to AIPAC (March 4) and in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic (March 2) – a commitment to continued international economic pressure and an open offer to return to the diplomatic table if Iran is willing to negotiate verifiable assurances that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.

In the President’s words, “[I]t is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table.”

This measured combination of pressure through sanctions and diplomacy needs to be given time to work. The President argued strongly against a rush to military action, urging that “now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in.” We are pleased to hear from the President “that our assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.”

If, as the President suggests, Iran is “isolated and feeling the severe effects of the multiple sanctions that have been placed on it,” then we urge that he use the leverage that pressure creates to engage Iran in a robust, new diplomatic initiative along the lines recently laid out by Ambassadors Thomas Pickering and William Luers.

We also echo the President’s call to curb the “bluster” and “loose talk of war,” which serve Iranian rather than American interests. The President’s concern regarding the consequences of a military strike against Iran is shared by many in the American and Israeli security establishments. He is right to question whether, “at a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally [Syria] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim, and deflect attention from what has to be the core issue, which is their potential pursuit of nuclear weapons?”

J Street will support the President’s approach. Sanctions are beginning to have an impact, and they should be given further time to take effect. A precipitous rush to military action against Iran does not serve the best interests of the United States or of Israel.