Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak.)
If President Obama’s remarks to the Israeli media are any indication, his upcoming (and long-delayed) visit to Israel next week is going to be a troubling one.
Speaking to Israeli reporters, Obama broke little new ground in addressing the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, but curiously—and widely trumpeted by both American and Israeli media covering his remarks—the president chose a weird formulation, namely, that Iran can make a bomb within one year. As quoted by CNN from Israel’s Channel 2 TV, Obama said: “Right now, we think that it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon.”
According to some readings, Obama’s statement was designed to mollify Israeli fears that Iran is getting close to a bomb. But really, the impact of the statement is the opposite, because a year seems like a pretty short time to most people. And, in reality, Iran has taken no steps toward any militarization of its nuclear research. Quite the opposite, Tehran has countered the overblown rhetoric of American and Israeli hawks by changing much of its 20 percent–enriched uranium into fuel for its research reactor, in a manner that guarantees that it can’t be easily converted into material for a weapon.
And, Obama repeated the unfortunate theory that economic sanctions are compelling Iran to come to the negotiating table and that, behind those sanctions is the threat of US military action. “When I say all options are on the table, all options are on the table. The United States obviously has significant capabilities,” said Obama.
The contrary reality, though, is the economic sanctions and military threats make a deal with Iran less likely, not more likely, since Tehran will not make a deal that surrenders its basic right to enrich uranium under pressure and threats. Only a series of important concessions by the United States can lead Iran into an accord, and among those concessions are first, a clear statement from Washington that Tehran has the right to enrich and can continue to do so under international supervision, and second, a clear declaration that economic sanctions against Iran will be lifted as part of a deal.
Ironically enough, Iran’s Press TV, a conservative, government-run news agency, gave a rather positive spin to Obama’s remarks, headlining its story: “Obama pledges more Iran talks, rebuffing Israeli push for military bid.” Its opening paragraph reads: