Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — When it comes to nuclear negotiations with Iran, President Obama has said America’s goal is to prevent Iran from ever producing a nuclear weapon, while Israel has described a different one: denying Iran the capability of ever getting there.
“Our goal here is to be able to verify that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon,” Obama said after a meeting with the emir of Qatar last week.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a different take.
“We must prevent Iran from having the capability to produce nuclear weapons. And I want to reiterate that point. Not just to prevent them from having the weapon, but to prevent them from having the capacity to make the weapon,” Netanyahu said last year when he spoke at the 2014 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington.
So do the U.S. and Israel really want the same thing?
“I guess you could make the case that there is [a difference in goals]. I’m happy for someone else to do that if they would like to,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.
“No one else has laid out a strategy for how to accomplish what apparently the prime minister has laid out as his goal. He hasn’t even laid out a strategy for how to accomplish his goal,” Earnest said.
Here’s Earnest’s full response, in which he defended the White House’s aims in pursuing the nuclear talks that have sparked so much controversy (transcript via FedNews):
KARL: Actually, the Israeli prime minister has articulated a different goal than what you did at this briefing. You said that the United States is committed to a position where Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon. What Bibi Netanyahu said today, and what he’s been saying all along is the goal, is to make sure Iran doesn’t get the capability to build a nuclear weapon.
KARL: Which he says, and is, a different view. So, what do you say about his view, that the whole point of this effort is to ensure not just that Iran doesn’t get a weapon, but that Iran doesn’t get the ability to build a weapon?
EARNEST: Well, I assume that the — the prime minister will have an opportunity to elaborate on what he means when he says the ability to acquire a nuclear weapon.
KARL: I can tell you what he means.
KARL: He’s referring to an enrichment capability. He’s also talked about the fact that they have a ballistic missile program that would enable a delivery system for a nuclear weapon. That’s what he’s talking about. When Iran has the ability to produce highly enriched uranium, it is the fuel to make a nuclear bomb. He believes that’s a threat to Israel’s survival because it puts them on a path to getting or to building a bomb.
EARNEST: And has he laid out a strategy for how to prevent them from — how to accomplish the goal that he has laid out? I guess the point is, you don’t have to speak for him any longer. The point is, he has not — he has not laid out that strategy. The president has laid out a clear strategy that we are working to achieve that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that is a clearly stated foreign policy goal and it is a priority that this president has made because it’s in the clear national security interest of the United States. It also happens to be in the national security interests of our closest ally in the region, Israel.
KARL: So is he correct, though, to say that your goal, then, is not to prevent Iran from getting the capability to build a bomb. It’s to prevent them from getting a bomb.
EARNEST: Well, the… [CROSSTALK]
EARNEST: Well, if he says that there’s a difference there, he’s allowed to do that. The point that I’m making…
KARL: You don’t think there’s a difference between those two positions?
EARNEST: Well, I guess you could make the case that there is one. I’m happy for someone else to do that if they would like to. The point is that we believe — the president has made a strategic decision about what he believes is clearly in the best interests of the United States. And it happens to be in the best interests of Israel. No one else has laid out a strategy for how to accomplish what apparently the prime minister has laid out as his goal. He hasn’t even laid out a strategy for how to accomplish his goal. And by the way, I’m not even sure that the military option that some people consider to be an alternative to the president’s strategy would even accomplish his goal because it would require not just a detailed destruction of Iran’s infrastructure, but it also would require the removal of knowledge that Iran has already obtained.
So, the fact is the goal that the president has set out that would ensure that — or that is consistent with our national security imperatives here in this country, is to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. And the best way for us to do this is at the negotiating table. Those negotiations are underway even as we speak. But the other thing that I have not mentioned so far in this briefing that’s important for everybody to realize is it continues to be the case that our likelihood of success when it comes to reaching a deal in the context of these negotiations is only at best 50-50. There are difficult decisions that need to be made by the Iranian government in terms of their willingness to sign onto this agreement. And this president has made clear that he’s not going to sign a bad deal.
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