Obama lauds Iran talks, says unilateral action still an option


WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said the United States would not hesitate to use military action in support of an ally and defended his policy of engagement with Iran.

Obama, in a major foreign policy speech on Wednesday at the graduation at the military academy in West Point, N.Y., sought a middle ground between what he depicted as “realism” and an overreliance on interventionism.

“The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it,” Obama said, including instances when the United States is directly threatened and “when the security of our allies is in danger.”

He emphasized, however, that he preferred multilateralism as a means of ensuring success.

“When issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake — when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us — then the threshold for military action must be higher,” he said. “In such circumstances, we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, less likely to lead to costly mistakes.”

Obama said his choices on Iran bore out his theory, criticizing the confrontational posture of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, and Israel.

“Despite frequent warnings from the United States and Israel and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years,” he said. “But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government. And now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully,” he said, referring to the nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers.

Obama cautioned that the “odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

He continued, “but for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement — one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed concerns that the nuclear talks, to resume in mid-June in Vienna, will achieve a deal that leaves Iran perilously close to a nuclear weapon.

Obama did not mention the future of the failed U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, though he discussed other conflicts in the area, including Syria.

Recommended from JTA