[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below
transcribed directly from audio]
Well, this is going to be
the first opportunity that I have to get an extensive debriefing from
Secretary Carter, who took a trip last week to Afghanistan and other
parts of the region. Heíll be giving me some impressions about how
weíre planning our drawdown and transition in Afghanistan, and talk
about some other regional issues.
One issue that we will be discussing is Iran. And obviously thatís been
a topic of great interest today, so let me just make a couple comments
on that. I did not have a chance to watch Prime Minister Netanyahuís
speech -- I was on a video conference with our European partners with
respect to Ukraine. I did have a chance to take a look at the
transcript and as far as I can tell, there was nothing new.
The Prime Minister appropriately pointed out that the bond between the
United States of America is unbreakable, and on that point I thoroughly
agree. He also pointed out that Iran has been a dangerous regime and
continues to engage in activities that are contrary to the interests of
the United States, to Israel, and to the region. And on that, we
agree. He also pointed out the fact that Iran has repeatedly threatened
Israel and engaged in the most venomous of anti-Semitic statements. And
no one can dispute that.
But on the core issue, which is how do we prevent Iran from obtaining a
nuclear weapon, which would make it far more dangerous and would give it
scope for even greater action in the region, the Prime Minister didnít
offer any viable alternatives. So letís be clear about what exactly the
central concern should be, both for the United States and for Israel.
Iíve said since before I became President that one of my primary goals
in foreign policy would be preventing Iran from getting nuclear
weapons. And with the help of Congress and our international partners,
we constructed an extraordinarily effective sanctions regime that
pressured Iran to come to the table to negotiate in a serious fashion.
They have now been negotiating over the last year, and during that
period, Iran has, in fact, frozen its program, rolled back some of its
most dangerous highly enriched uranium, and subjected itself to the
kinds of verifications and inspections that we had not previously seen.
Keep in mind that when we
shaped that interim deal, Prime Minister Netanyahu made almost the
precise same speech about how dangerous that deal was going to be. And
yet, over a year later, even Israeli intelligence officers and, in some
cases, members of the Israeli government, have to acknowledge that, in
fact, it has kept Iran from further pursuing its nuclear program.
Now, the deal that we are trying to negotiate that is not yet completed
would cut off the different pathways for Iran to advance its nuclear
capabilities. It would roll back some elements of its program. It
would ensure that it did not have what we call a breakout capacity that
was shorter than a yearís time. And it would subject Iran to the most
vigorous inspections and verifications regimes that have ever been put
And the alternative that the Prime Minister offers is no deal, in which
case Iran will immediately begin once again pursuing its nuclear
program, accelerate its nuclear program, without us having any insight
into what theyíre doing, and without constraint. And his essential
argument is that if we just double down on sanctions, Iran wonít want to
Well, we have evidence from the past decade that sanctions alone are not
sufficient to prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. And if
it, in fact, does not have some sense that sanctions will be removed, it
will not have an interest in avoiding the path that itís currently on.
So the bottom line is this: We donít yet have a deal.
It may be that Iran cannot
say yes to a good deal. I have repeatedly said that I would rather have
no deal than a bad deal. But if weíre successful in negotiating, then,
in fact, this will be the best deal possible to prevent Iran from
obtaining a nuclear weapon. Nothing else comes close. Sanctions wonít
do it. Even military action would not be as successful as the deal that
we have put forward.
And I think it is very important not to be distracted by the nature of
the Iranian regimeís ambitions when it comes to territory or terrorism
-- all issues which we share a concern with Israel about and are working
consistently with Israel on. Because we know that if, in fact, they
obtain a nuclear weapon, all those problems would be worse.
So weíre staying focused on the central issue here: How do we prevent
Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The path that weíve proposed, if
successful, by far is the best way to do that. Thatís demonstrable.
And Prime Minister Netanyahu has not offered any kind of viable
alternative that would achieve the same verifiable mechanism to prevent
Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
So I would urge the members of Congress who were there to continue to
express their strong support for Israelís security, to continue to
express their strong interest in providing the assistance Israel needs
to repel attacks. I think it's important for members of Congress, on a
bipartisan basis, to be unified in pushing back against terrorism in the
region and the destabilizing efforts that Iran may have engaged in with
our partners. Those are all things in which this administration and
But when it comes to this nuclear deal, letís wait until thereís
actually a deal on the table that Iran has agreed to, at which point
everybody can evaluate it; we donít have to speculate. And what I can
guarantee is that if it's a deal Iíve signed off on, I will be able to
prove that it is the best way for us to prevent Iran from getting a
And for us to pass up on that potential opportunity would be a great
mistake. It's not one that I intend to make, and I will take that case
to every member of Congress once we actually have a deal.
Iíll take one question from Julie. Go ahead.
Question: Now that youíve had
a chance to read the Prime Ministerís remarks at least, do you feel like
the speech he gave was appropriate, considering his upcoming elections
and the upcoming deadline? And you also talked to other foreign leaders
today -- the call on Ukraine. Did Iran come up at all, and are you
expecting any signs of support from them vis-ŗ-vis your position versus
the Prime Minister?
President Obama: No. All the folks
on the call today share my position that we should see if we can get
this deal done. It was not a topic of conversation.
With respect to the decision of the Speaker to offer up the House
Chamber two weeks before Mr. Netanyahuís election to make this case, I
think that question should be directed to Mr. Boehner.
As I said, it is very important for us not to politicize the
relationship between Israel and the United States. It's very important
for all of us Americans to realize that we have a system of government
in which foreign policy runs through the executive branch and the
President, not through other channels.
And I think it's important for us to stay focused on the problem at
hand. And the specific problem that is being debated right now is not
whether we trust the Iranian regime or not -- we donít trust them. It's
not whether Iran engages in destabilizing activities -- everybody agrees
The central question is,
how can we stop them from getting a nuclear weapon.
And what we know is that if weíre able to get a deal, not only do we cut
off all the various pathways for Iran getting a nuclear weapon, but we
also know that weíll have a verification mechanism and an inspection
mechanism where if they cheat and if they engage in a covert program we
are far more likely to see it in time to do something about it.
What I also know is if we donít have a deal, as Prime Minster Netanyahu
suggested -- if, in fact, heís right that theyíre not trustworthy, they
intend to pursue a covert program, and they cheat, weíll be far less
aware of it until it is potentially too late.
What I also know is, is that he made the same argument before this
current interim deal, and even officials in his own government had to
acknowledge that Iran has, in fact, maintained their end of the bargain.
So what I'm focused on right now is solving this problem. Iím not
focused on the politics of it, I'm not focused on the theater of it.
And my strong suggestion would be that members of Congress, as they
evaluate it, stay similarly focused.