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Obama warns Iran he will use force if needed

Obama told the AIPAC conference in Washington DC  that “there is too much loose talk of war” these days [Reuters]

US President Barack Obama has said he prefers to use diplomacy to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but he made clear that he will not “hesitate to use force” when necessary to defend the US and its interests.

Obama also said in a speech to a powerful pro-Israel organisation on Sunday that “there is too much loose talk of war” these days amid concern about a possible pre-emptive Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

He appealed to Israel for more time to let sanctions further isolate Iran and sought to halt a drumbeat to war and hold off a unilateral Israeli attack. 

“For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster,” Obama told thousands at the annual American-Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) policy conference.

“Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built.”

Quoting President Theodore Roosevelt, Obama said he would “speak softly, but carry a big stick” – and warned Iran not to test US resolve.

Obama’s widely anticipated speech came one day before he meets at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who planned to address AIPAC late Monday.

Three Republican presidential candidates – Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich – were scheduled to speak to the conference via satellite on Tuesday, a critical day in the primary campaign when 10 states vote in the race to find a challenger to Obama in the November election.

To Israel and to Jewish voters in this country, Obama promoted his administration’s commitment to the Middle East ally.

“You don’t have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds,” Obama said. He defended his record of rallying to Israel’s security and political sovereignty, saying: “We have been there for Israel, every single time.”

Obama’s comments were heavily laced with the politics of the campaign. He blamed distortions of his record on partisan politics.

‘Menace to the world’

The Israeli president, Shimon Peres, spoke before Obama and said that a nuclear Iran would be a menace to the world, not just to Israel’s security.

Peres, whose country sees its existence threatened by the potential development of nuclear arms by Iran, said: “Iran is an evil, cruel, morally corrupt regime. It is based on destruction and is an affront to human dignity.”

He said Israel knows the horrors of war and does not seek one with Iran, “but if we are forced to fight, trust me. We shall prevail”.

Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

In Israel, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said American pressure would not affect Israeli thinking on how to cope with the threat.

“We are an independent sovereign state, and at the end of the day, the state of Israel will make the most correct decisions as we understand them.”

Iran was expected to be the dominant theme at AIPAC, unlike last year when Obama tried to rally support behind US-brokered Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that have since foundered.

“This year’s conference gathers at a time when the global threat posed by Iran is at an all-time high,” AIPAC said in a statement, adding that both Obama and Netanyahu would tackle the threat in their speeches.

“Iran is nearing nuclear-weapons capability, jeopardising American national security and threatening our friends in the Gulf as well as our broader interests in the Middle East,” it said.

It warned of what it called heightened Iranian terrorist activity and said “Iran’s leaders call for Israel to be wiped off the map as they pursue nuclear weapons that would pose an intolerable threat to the Jewish state”.

In response to Obama’s AIPAC speech, Jordan warned that any military action against Iran over its nuclear programme would be “disastrous” for the whole Middle East.

“Any military action against Iran will have a disastrous impact on the entire region, which cannot afford to go through more wars,” Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh told a group of visiting Turkish Members of Parliament.

“Any solution to the Iranian issue should be diplomatic. War on Iran will drag the region backwards… for decades,” the state-run Petra quoted the premier as saying.

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