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Obama’s repeated debate calls for the Iranians to ‘end their nuclear program’

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Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin has responded to my earlier post in which I suggested that there was a possible alternative way of understanding President Obama’s insistence during the debate that the Iranians must “end their nuclear program.”

Tobin had previously written that this statement seemingly forecloses the possibility of a deal in which the Iran would be able to “retain any sort of nuclear program.” I had responded that while Tobin’s reading is consistent with the plain meaning of the president’s statement, another possibility was that Obama was referring more specifically to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. I also hinted at the possibility that the omission of the word “weapons” could have been inadvertent.

But as Tobin notes in response, the president used this phrasing more than once during the debate. Indeed, as was just pointed out to me by another journalist, Obama repeatedly called on Iran to “end” or “give up” its “nuclear program.” So the president’s phrasing does appear to be both significant and intentional. (And Tobin is not the only close observer of this issue to highlight the significance of the president’s words: Trita Parsi — whose views on Iran do not at all line up with Tobin’s — had a similar take.)

At various points in the debate, Obama said (emphasis is mine):

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* So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice. They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.

* But our goal is to get Iran to recognize it needs to give up its nuclear program and abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place, because they have the opportunity to re-enter the community of nations, and we would welcome that.

* And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision. But the deal we’ll accept is, they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.

* There is a deal to be had, and that is that they abide by the rules that have already been established; they convince the international community they are not pursuing a nuclear program; there are inspections that are very intrusive.

* I’m pleased that you now are endorsing our policy of applying diplomatic pressure and potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.

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