Aipac: Barack Obama firm for Israel, firm on Iran

President Obama at Aipac conference. 4 March 2012 President Obama won a standing ovation from the Aipac conference in Washington

President Obama could have been in no doubt as to what would go down well in the darkened, cavernous hall in Washington where the American Israel Public Affairs Committee held its huge annual meeting.

Strong, firm support for Israel; strong, firm words on Iran.

But he had multiple audiences - Israel's leaders; independents who worry that he is not tough enough; Democrats who worry he is too tough; allies worried about Israel's intentions; Iran itself.

Earlier, Liz Cheney had said Obama had done more than any president in history to "undermine and delegitimise" Israel.

He had already warned that Republicans would attempt to drive a wedge between him and the Jewish vote and told this conference that he had Israel's back and "remember that the US-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics. America's national security is too important. Israel's security is too important".

Frankly, that's the easy bit.

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They liked what he said, but most wondered when words would be turned into action”

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This is the largest conference in Aipac's history. Organisers say a staggering 13,000 people will take part and "celebrate the shared values and shared vision of Israel and America".

There is no doubt that Iran is right at the top of their agenda.

The very first speaker says "Iran is marching towards the bomb". The press pack has a colour sheet showing a missile and the looming faces of Iran's leaders. The text reads: "Iranian nuclear weapons capacity: Unacceptable."

The president went a long way to telling the audience that he agreed. He said he would use "all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon".

But he said there had been too much bluster, too much loose talk of war. That could be seen as a rebuke to the Israeli government, which has not discouraged growing speculation that it plans a military strike against Iran this year.

The president said diplomacy could succeed in persuading Iran to give up its programme. But he had a warning too.

'Military contingency'

He stressed that Israel had a sovereign right to make its own decisions about security and added: "I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.

"That includes all elements of American power. A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian programme is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

"I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."

He got a standing ovation, and everybody I could see joined in. Those I spoke to afterwards had a remarkably similar view.

They liked what he said, but most wondered when words would be turned into action.

When Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White house on Monday we will find out how the speech has gone down with the government of Israel.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    246, Like most the UK was not that welcoming to Jews at first, however this changed in the late 1930's, including getting children out to the UK and France. My point is in this period the US would not budge. Some self interest true, those scientists interested in the atom for one. Had they not been offered sanctuary in UK they would not have eventually got to the US. For the Manhattan Project.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    295. Rey
    "I hope the Russians and the Chinese can do something to bring some sanity to this situation."
    But aren't the Russians and Chinese the ones who stopped the UN from being able to pressure Assad into giving up the brutal suppression of the Syrian people? Your hope is seriously misplaced, you might as well ask the Tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny for help.

  • Comment number 308.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    Yes, Iran has never invaded anyone, and yes, they have the right to acquire nuclear power for peaceful use.

    But who can trust them? They only look at this world through the aspiring arrogant eyes of the 'Chosen', keen on retrieving the old glories of the Persian Empire, that once ruled nearly all the MidEast, Northern India and many parts of central Asia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    Obama did very nicely walking the tightrope between Israel & Iran.
    Q. If Israel strikes Iran, will US back Israel up - as in "US has your back."
    A. I REALLY DON'T KNOW because Israel would not have, could not have UN resolution in its favour. Most of world is tired of US protecting Israel at the UN at the cost of other ME countries, especially Palestinian. I wonder if Israel itself knows.


Comments 5 of 310



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