I have no illusions that any of this will be easy. It will require difficult decisions on both sides but Israel is strong enough to achieve peace if it has partners who are committed to the goal. Most Israelis and Palestinians want peace and we must strengthen their hand. The United States must be a strong and consistent partner in this process--not to force concessions but help committed partners avoid stalemate and the kinds of vacuums that are filled by violence. And that’s what I commit to do as President of the United States.
The threats--the threats to Israel start close to home but they do not end there. Syria continues its support for terror and meddling in Lebanon and Syria has taken dangerous steps in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction which is why Israeli action was entirely justified to end that threat.
I also believe that the United States has a responsibility to support Israel’s effort to renew peace talks with the Syrians. We must never force Israel to the negotiating table. But neither--neither should we ever block negotiations when Israelis’ leaders decide that they may serve Israeli interests; as President I will do whatever I can to help Israel succeed in these negotiations and success will require the full enforcement of Security Council Resolution 1701 in Lebanon and a stop to Syria’s support for terror. It is time for this reckless behavior to come to an end.
Now there’s no greater threat to Israel or to the peace and the stability of the region than Iran. This audience is made up of both Republicans and Democrats and the enemies of Israel should have no doubt that regardless of Party, Americans stand shoulder to shoulder in our commitment to Israel’s security, so while I don’t want to strike a two-partisan a note here today I do want to address some willful mischaracterizations of my position. The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its President denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.
The danger from Iran is grave; it is real; and my goal will be to eliminate this threat. But just as we are clear-eyed about the threat we must be clear about the failure of today’s policy. We knew in 2002 that Iran supported terrorism, we knew that Iran had an illicit nuclear program, we knew Iran posed a grave threat to Israel; but instead of pursuing a strategy to address this threat we ignored it and instead invaded and occupied Iraq. When I opposed the War I warned that it would fan the flames of extremism in the Middle East; that is precisely what happened in Iran. The hardliners tightened their grip and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President in 2005. And the United States and Israel are less secure. I respect Senator McCain and I look forward to a substantive debate with him these next five months but on this point we have differed and we will differ. Senator McCain refuses to understand or acknowledge the failure of the policy he would continue. He criticizes my willingness to use strong diplomacy but offers only an alternative--reality, one where the War in Iraq has somehow put Iran on its heels.
The truth is the opposite. Iran has strengthened its position; Iran is now enriching uranium and it has reportedly stockpiled 150 kilos of low enriched uranium. Its support for terrorism and threats towards Israel has increased; those are the facts and they cannot be denied and I refuse to continue a policy that has made the United States and Israel less secure.
Well Senator McCain and others offer a false choice--stay the course in Iraq or cede the region to Iran. I reject this logic because there is a better way. Keeping all of our troops tied down indefinitely in Iraq is not the way to weaken Iran; it is precisely what has strengthened it. It is a policy for staying; not a policy for victory. I have proposed a responsible, phased redeployment of our troops from Iraq. We will get out as carefully as we were careless getting in; we will finally pressure Iraq’s leaders to take meaningful responsibility for their own future. We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon--everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon--everything.
That starts with aggressive principled tough diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions but with a clear-eyed understanding of our interests. We have no time to waste. We cannot unconditionally rule out an approach that could prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have tried limited piecemeal talks while we outsource the sustained work to our European allies. It has not worked; it is time for the United States to leave. And there will be careful--there will be careful preparation. We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, especially Israel, and evaluate the potential for progress. And contrary to the claims of some I have no interest in sitting down with our adversary just for the sake of talking.