WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama rejected the notion of simply containing a nuclear Iran, saying in an interview that such a prospect was intolerable.
"I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff," Obama said in an Oval Office interview earlier this week with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. "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."
In the interview, which was published online Friday morning, Goldberg pressed Obama on whether he thought Iran could be "contained," a strategy the Israeli government opposes and that activists at next week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference will lobby Congress to reject.
Obama, who will address the AIPAC conference on Sunday, insisted that containment was not on option.
"It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon," he said. "Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe."
He suggested that it was important to get the Iranians to see it was in their own interest not to pursue a nuclear weapon.
He said that "it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table."
Obama said that reports of differences between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were blown out of proportion.
"In terms of Israeli politics, there’s been a view that regardless of whether it’s a Democratic or Republican administration, the working assumption is: we’ve got Israel’s back," he said. "And that’s something that I constantly try to reinforce and remind people of."