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Obama on Iran: ‘I don’t bluff’

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s goal in coming talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to persuade him that the United States “has Israel’s back” so that Israel has no need to rush toward air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the president said in a newly published interview.

In a meeting at the White House on Monday, the president told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg he will try to persuade the Israeli leader that an attack now would backfire at a time when Iran is under increasing international pressure.

In an interview granted earlier this week and posted on the Atlantic magazine’s website Friday morning, Goldberg reported that Obama is dismissive of a strategy of containment as unworkable and called it “unacceptable” for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Obama said he plans to tell Netanyahu that he will order military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program if the current international sanctions are not successful in deterring its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The possibility of an American strike against Iran is a serious one, Goldberg reported.

“I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff,” Obama said, according to the report. “I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”

Many of the president’s supporters are concerned about that commitment, an uneasiness Obama reportedly hopes to allay in a Sunday speech to a pro-Israel lobby. Obama’s agenda the next day in his meeting with Netanyahu is to convince Israeli leadership that they can rely on that assurance enough to delay military action of their own.

Obama said in the interview that all options are on the table in the Iranian situation, the final one being what he referred to as the “military component.” He said his concerns are not just about Israel’s security but about the proliferation of nuclear weapons more generally.

Still, Obama said he has faith that the sanctions coordinated by his administration have hurt Iran and that they may soon force the regime in Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

“Without in any way being under an illusion about Iranian intentions, without in any way being naive about the nature of that regime, they are self-interested,” Obama said. “It is possible for them to make a strategic calculation that, at minimum, pushes much further to the right whatever potential breakout capacity they may have, and that may turn out to be the best decision for Israel’s security.”

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