On April 4, 2015 President Obama agreed to an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times to discuss the relationship between the United States and Iran and recent negotiations between the two countries.
President Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, have been exchanging letters. President Obama says about Khamenei:
He’s a pretty tough read. I don’t have great insight beyond what I get from our Intelligence folks. I haven’t spoken to him directly. In the letters that he sends there is typically a lot of reminders of what he perceives as past grievances against Iran. But…what is telling is that he did give, his negotiators in this deal, the leeway and the capability to make important concessions that would allow the framework of this agreement to come to fruition.
So, what that tells me is although he is deeply suspicious of the West he is, I think, very insular…that he thinks about international issues as well as domestic issues…that he’s deeply conservative…he does realize that the sanctions of this regime that we put together was weakening Iran over the long term. And that if in fact he wanted to see Iran reenter the community of nations that there are going to have to be changes.
They go on to discuss Israel, Netanyahu, and the situations in Iraq and Palestine, saying that, “Our defense of Israel is unshakable. I would consider a fundamental failure of my Presidency, or as a consequence of the work that I’ve done, if Israel was rendered more vulnerable.” Adding that, “It would not be just a strategic failure, it would be a moral failure.”
When Friedman asked President Obama if Israelis were watching this video, what would he say to them, President Obama responded:
You have every right to be concerned about Iran. This is a regime that–at the highest levels–has expressed the desire to destroy Israel. . . that has denied the holocaust. . . that has expressed a venomous anti-Semitic ideas and is a big country, with a big population and has a sophisticated military. So Israel is right to be concerned about Iran. And they should be absolutely concerned that Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.
What I would like to say to the Israeli people, however, is that there is no formula, there is no option to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that will be more effective than diplomatic initiative and framework that we’ve put forward. And that’s demonstrable.
President Obama continues calmly discussing the situation and the feelings of the people involved and states unequivocally, “If anybody messes with Israel, the United States will be there.”
He also says that he wants to reach out to the Sunnis and the Gulf countries and invite them to Camp David to discuss how to diffuse current and future disagreements and “lower temperatures,” verifying that the United States will be subjecting Iran to unprecedented vigorous inspections, every ingredient, every process and every step along the way.
President Obama further drives it home that it is far better for everyone, not just the United States, to know exactly what Iran is doing, perhaps even building relationships, rather than literally tearing their country down. He also acknowledges that Iran’s current view of the United States is colored by our country’s past “meddling” with theirs. He details the positives that Iran can, and should be, contributing to the International Community–rather than focusing on being a “war machine.”
President Obama admits that the deal is not yet done and that there are still many details to be determined, including “political difficulties, both in Iran and obviously here in the United States Congress.” (Trying to not smile as he says it, coolly referring to the “open letter” from Tom Cotton and the 46 senators that attempted to undermine negotiations with President Obama and Iran.)
Tom Friedman points out that during his Presidency, Obama has achieved some things that are truly remarkable.
You know, you have knocked down a wall with Burma, you knocked down an even bigger wall with Cuba, and–potentially–you are going to knock down a really big wall with Iran…. I feel like underneath there is a bit of an Obama Doctrine in there… It’s: Take care of all the strategic concerns and satisfy them as much as you can, but you do believe that the engagement is possible, that engagement can lead to different outcomes that are unpredictable in advance.
President Obama explains that the United States is powerful enough to engage countries without engaging militaries, and really how ridiculous it is that we often consider it an option. He points out the vast different between the United States military ($600 billion) and Iran’s military ($3 billion) and states simply, “Iran understands that they cannot fight us.”
So refreshing to see a President that recognizes that when the United States walks in the door to the negotiations everyone in the room knows, without anyone uttering a word, that the United States has the most powerful military on the planet and, thus, military action should be the very last alternative. Yet he makes it clear that it is an alternative. What he says about “some members of Congress” is beautiful.
WATCH the entire interview here.
Featured image via New York Times video screen capture