Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In their own words

From the transcript of the press conference with President Obama and PM Netanyahu, published in THE JERUSALEM POST, May. 18, 2009 [my emphasis added - SL]:

...OBAMA: ...I think we had a (sic) extraordinarily productive series of conversations...
Obviously, this reflects the extraordinary relationship, the special relationship between the United States and Israel. It is a stalwart ally of the United States. We have historical ties, emotional ties. As the only true democracy in the Middle East, it is a source of admiration and inspiration for the American people.

I have said from the outset that when it comes to my policies towards Israel and the Middle East, that Israel's security is paramount, and I repeated that to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

It is in US national security interests to assure that Israel's security as a (sic) independent Jewish state is maintained.

One of the areas that we discussed is the deepening concern around the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran....

...Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would not only be a threat to Israel and a threat to the United States, but would be profoundly destabilizing in the international community as a whole and could set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would be extraordinarily dangerous for all concerned, including for Iran.

We are engaged in a process to reach out to Iran and persuade them that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon and that they should change course. But I assured the prime minister that we are not foreclosing a range of steps, including much stronger international sanctions, in assuring that Iran understands that we are serious...

...We also had an extensive discussion about the possibilities of restarting serious negotiations on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians. ... it is, I believe, in the interests not only of the Palestinians but also the Israelis and the United States and the international community to achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security.

We have seen progress stalled on this front. And I suggested to the prime minister that he has a historic opportunity to get a serious movement on this issue during his tenure.

That means that all the parties involved have to take seriously obligations that they've previously agreed to. Those obligations were outlined in the road map. They were discussed extensively in Annapolis.

NETANYAHU: President Obama, thank you....I was particularly pleased in your reaffirmation of the special relationship between Israel and the United States. We share the same goal and we face the same threats.

...the worst danger we face is that Iran would develop nuclear military capabilities. Iran openly calls for our destruction, which is unacceptable (inaudible). It threatens the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East. It threatens US interests worldwide.

...I very much appreciate, Mr. President, your -- your firm commitment to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear military capability, and also your statement that you're leaving all options on the table.

I share with you very much the desire to move the peace process forward. ...we don't want to govern the Palestinians. We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel.

And for this there has to be a -- a clear goal. The goal has to be an end to conflict. There'll have to be compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike. We're ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share as well.

If we resume negotiations, as we plan to do, then I think that the Palestinians will -- will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself.

If those conditions are met -- Israel's security conditions are met, and there's recognition of Israel's legitimacy -- its permanent legitimacy, then I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, security and in peace...

...QUESTION: Mr. President ... about Iran's nuclear program. Your program of engagement -- policy of engagement, how long is that going to last? Is there a deadline?

OBAMA: You know, I don't want to set an artificial deadline. ...Iran is in the midst of its own elections. ... election time is not always the best time to get business done.

...I believe it is not only in the interests of the international community that Iran not develop nuclear weapons; I firmly believe it is in Iran's interest not to develop nuclear weapons, because it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and be profoundly destabilizing in all sorts of ways.

Iran can achieve its interests of securing international respect and prosperity for its people through other means. And I am prepared to make what I believe will be a persuasive argument that there should be a different course to be taken.

...we're not going to have talk forever. We're not going to create a situation in which the talks become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds with developing a nuclear -- and deploying a nuclear weapon. ...We should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction and whether the parties
involved are making progress and that there's a good-faith effort to resolve differences.

...QUESTION: Aren't you concerned that your outstretched hand has been interpreted by extremists, especially Ahmadinejad and (inaudible) Mashaal (ph), as weakness?

And since my colleague already asked about the deadline, if engagement fails, what then?

OBAMA: Well, it's not clear to me why my outstretched hand would be interpreted as weakness. ...We have put forward a clear principle that where we can resolve issues through negotiations and diplomacy... it's very important for us to give this a chance. Now, understand that part of the reason that it's so important for us to take a diplomatic approach is that the approach that we've been taking, which is no diplomacy, obviously has not worked. ...Nobody disagrees with that. Hamas and Hezbollah have gotten stronger. Iran has been pursuing its nuclear capabilities undiminished (ph). And so, not talking, that clearly hasn't worked. That's what's been tried.

And so what we're going to do is try something which is actually engaging and reaching out to the Iranians. The important thing is to make sure that there is a clear timetable, at which point we say, "These talks don't seem to be making any serious (inaudible)."

... by the end of the year I think we should have some sense as to whether or not these discussions are starting to yield significant benefits, whether we are starting to see serious movement on the part of the Iranians.

If that hasn't taken place, then I think the international community will see that it's not the United States or Israel or other countries that are seeking to isolate or victimize Iran. Rather, it is Iran itself which is isolating itself by (inaudible) -- being unwilling to engage in serious discussions about how they can preserve their security without threatening other people's security, which ultimately is what we want to achieve.

We want to achieve a situation where all countries in the region can pursue economic development, commercial ties and trade, and -- and do so without the threat that populations are going to be subject to bombs and destruction.

That's what I think the prime minister is interested in. That's what I'm interested in. And I hope that ends up being what the ruling officials in Iran are interested in as well.

QUESTION: Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, can you each react to (inaudible) statement about a week ago that we really are at a critical place in the conflict and that if this moment isn't seized and if a peace isn't achieved now, soon, that in a year, a year and a half we could see renewed major conflict and perhaps more? And do you agree with that assessment?

NETANYAHU: I think we have to seize the moment.

I think we're fortunate in having a leader like President Obama and a new government in Israel, and perhaps a new understanding in the Arab world that I haven't seen in my lifetime.

You are very kind to me calling me young, but I'm more than half a century old. And in my 59 years, in the life of the Jewish state, there's never been a time when Arabs and Israelis see a common threat the way we see it today, and also see the need to join together in working towards peace, while simultaneously defending ourselves against this common threat.

NETANYAHU: I think we have -- we have ways to capitalize on this sense of urgency, and we're prepared to move with the president and with others in the Arab world, if they're prepared to move as well.

...OBAMA: Look, I think there's an extraordinary opportunity (ph). The prime minister said it well. You have Arab states in the region -- the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the Saudis -- who ...share concerns about Iran's potential development of a nuclear weapon.

...there is a recognition that the Palestinians are going to have to do a better job providing the kinds of security assurances that Israelis would need to achieve a two-state solution...The other Arab states have to be more supportive and be bolder in seeking potential normalization with Israel.

...Israel is going to have to take some difficult steps as well. And I shared with the prime minister the fact that under the road map, under Annapolis, there is a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements; that settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward.

...OBAMA: ...I recognize Israel's legitimate concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons when they have a president who has in the past said that Israel should not exist. That would give any leader of any country pause.

...To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians -- between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat.

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