Obama and Netanyahu discuss Iran’s nuclear program

The Takeaway

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Barack Obama at a press conference in 2009. The two leaders have historically had a tense relationship. (Photo courtesy of The White House.)

At Sunday’s annual AIPAC conference, President Barack Obama said he was firm in his opposition to Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions.

“Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment — I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.

In recent weeks, the rhetoric coming from the White House has been clear concerning Iran’s nuclear interests. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, the president insisted the United States would take action against Iran’s nuclear facilities if economic sanctions do not induce Iran to end its nuclear program.

“I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff,” Obama said. “Both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”

But according to David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, many of the conference attendees did not find Obama’s comments to be aggressive enough.

“The response from the room was a little bit tepid,” said Sanger. “When he did his more martial lines there was greater applause. When he was calling for more negations there was something of a silence or just a smattering of applause.”

According to Sanger, Obama and Netanyahu both agree that Iran is interested in developing its nuclear capability, however they do not view the situation with the same urgency.

“The question is one of, how much risk each one is willing to take,” Sanger said. “Because the Israeli's say, ‘we may not know when (Iran) decides ultimately to build that weapon,' and the Americans are arguing, ‘we have time, we don't have to deal with it as a crisis right now.' "

For Sanger, Obama’s comments at the AIPAC conference underscored the challenges of the current situation.

“The president was discussing the exact conundrum that the United States and Israel find themselves in right now,” Sanger said. “They desperately want sanctions and discussion to solve this problem, and yet the more talk there is of war, the price of oil goes up. And the more the price of oil goes up, the less the sanctions hurt the Iranians because the increase in the price of oil makes up for their decreased sales. This is one of those odd moments where even having a discussion of war in an effort to intimidate the Iranians actually strengthens the Iranian case."

Last week, the Associated Press published an intelligence report that suggests top Israeli officials have decided they will not warn the U.S. if they decide to launch attacks against Iran. According to the AP, the statement is reflective of Israel’s frustration with American diplomatic efforts.

Talks this week are aimed at strengthening Israeli-American relations. The price of oil, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, even the situation in Syria, are all on display at the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu.

Footage of today's talk, courtesy of the Washington Post.