Obama Rebuffs Netanyahu on Nuclear ‘Red Line’ for Iran – NYTimes.com

Why wouldn’t the President agree to a red line?

Mr. Obama, the official said, repeated the assurances he gave to Mr. Netanyahu in March that the United States would not allow Iran to manufacture a nuclear weapon. But the president was unwilling to agree on any specific action by Iran — like reaching a defined threshold on nuclear material, or failing to adhere to a deadline on negotiations — that would lead to American military action.

“We need some ability for the president to have decision-making room,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. “We have a red line, which is a nuclear weapon. We’re committed to that red line.”

via Obama Rebuffs Netanyahu on Nuclear ‘Red Line’ for Iran – NYTimes.com.

Bill Keller, former executive editor and now lead pontificator and explainer weighs in:

The jibe apparently referred not to Obama’s statement but to one issued independently by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, deploring the video. The Cairo outpost rejected “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” The Cairo embassy was understandably trying to defuse a potentially dangerous situation outside its walls. (Sure enough, the embassy was soon surrounded by an angry throng.)

When the situation became clearer, Romney could have tempered his remarks, and offered the president a hand of American solidarity. That would have been the right, the classy, the traditional and, incidentally, the politically popular thing to do. (It’s what virtually ever other senior Republican official did.) Instead, at a press conference, Romney doubled down, recycling his baseless charge that Obama was “apologizing for American principles.”

Romney has excuses for this kind of blunder: he is a foreign policy naïf, and he is desperate. But, like Netanyahu, he is not helping himself. The polls show that American voters trust Obama more than Romney on foreign policy. Romney’s ham-handed handling of this episode confirms their judgment.

via Mitt and Bibi: Diplomacy as Demolition Derby – NYTimes.com


9 thoughts on “Obama Rebuffs Netanyahu on Nuclear ‘Red Line’ for Iran – NYTimes.com”

  1. Honestly, if anything the President would have the grounds to refuse Netanyahu purely on grounds of his pride. The fact that the United States supports the Israeli military and virtually built it from the ground up leaves the US a little latitude in dealing with Israel. Such a demand from Netanyahu was a very dangerous move for Israel- why risk your greatest ally and your greatest supporter of your army? Israel was either feeling pretty gutsy that day or Netanyahu was getting a lot of pressure from back home.
    As far as the red line, why should the US, Obama in particular, on the eve of reelection, make demands that could effectively force the country to go to war as we just left it? Maybe the US should have a ‘red line’ to prevent Iran from becoming more of a threat, instead of just giving some light slaps on the wrist, but there is no way on Earth Obama is ever going to do something that controversial or even consider it during elections.
    Regardless, as Netanyahu puffs out his chest and tries to stand up for Israel and Obama swats him down in grand presidential form, Iran has the perfect opportunity to slowly but surely amass their nuclear power.


  2. In this case, I think President Obama is correct to refrain from setting another ‘red line’ for Iran’s nuclear program. The past ‘red lines’ that the U.S. has set on Iran have not deterred Iran from pursuing its nuclear program and the U.S. would be limiting itself in future decision-making concerning Iran.

    Israel is so adamant that the U.S. establishes these limits on Iran because doing so offers justification to Israel launching its own preemptive strike. As pointed out in the article, “Netanyahu faces deep divisions within his own country about the wisdom of a military strike.” This is demonstrated through opinion polls that suggest a majority of Israelis do not want their military to strike Iran without U.S. support. (http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/netanyahu-obama-israel-nuclear/2012/09/11/id/451404) If the U.S. were to impose strong deadlines or boundaries on Iran, the Israeli government would be further justified in a strike and would be emboldened in its efforts to do so. In this instance, setting deadlines pushes Israel and the U.S. closer to war with Iran rather than stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

  3. Like Rachel says, Obama simply cannot agree to any red lines with Iran right now because November is so close. We saw the same thing in March when the President was caught on a live mic asking Medvedev to wait on negotiations over missile defense until Obama would have post-election “flexibility” (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/26/us-nuclear-summit-obama-medvedev-idUSBRE82P0JI20120326). This is just another example of the nexus of domestic and foreign politics–they are often inseparable.

    Now Netanyahu’s deputy minister is openly breaking from the PM’s calls for red lines (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-14/news/sns-rt-us-iran-nuclear-israelbre88d04c-20120913_1_prime-minister-dan-meridor-iran-nuclear-weapon). It doesn’t look like Netanyahu will get what he wants–at least not right now. It seems obvious, though, that there is already an overarching red line for both the U.S. and Israel: that an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable. This red line already exists; Netanyahu wants something more. Has the U.S. really set red lines on Iran’s nuclear program before? It seems to me that a “red line” refers to actions or thresholds that would be considered absolutely unacceptable, and which would therefore require something more drastic than sanctions (like military intervention). I can’t think of any such “red lines” that the U.S. has already put in place. If we have, Iran has obviously called our bluff, and placing more red lines in their way would be laughable.

  4. This is a delicate situation for the US. Netanyahu said, “I think it’s important to place a red line before Iran, and I think that actually reduces the chance of a military conflict because, if they know there’s a point, a stage in the enrichment or other nuclear activities that they cannot cross because they’ll face consequences, I think they’ll actually not cross it.” (http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/16/netanyahu-urges-u-s-to-set-red-line-for-iran/) It seems that the converse is actually true – if Iran knew a red-line and the limits, they would surely push them as they have in the past. Netanyahu seems to want a definitive “red-line” set to allow a pre-emptive strike on the Iranian nuclear program. I can understand Obama’s reservation in setting “red-lines” in stone – the unpredictable nature of all circumstances surrounding Syria and the recent attacks on US embassies across Northern Africa and the Middle East, requires not only a flexibility in policy, but to set in stone a definitive “red-line” would almost require clairvoyance.

  5. Personally, I would say it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing if Iran final got nuclear weapons. According to the rules of deterrence (http://www.americaandtheworld.com/assets/media/pdfs/Schelling.pdf) , it would only increase the security of other countries. Iran knows that there are more countries that hate it than like it, and therefore, more that would retaliate if it launched a nuclear missile at someone else. Not only this, but if both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Israel and the US vs. Palestine and the Islamic countries as Iran) had nuclear weapons, than perhaps both sides would become more pliable, and thus perhaps broker peace between the two nations, similar to the increasingly peaceful relationship between Pakistan and India that has been caused by the nuclear weapons there. So with this is mind, how could our government set a red line when there is this possibility lurking in the background.

  6. I really liked your analysis Cody. Threatening Iran with our hard power is just going to provoke an aggressive reaction. The red line isn’t going to stop them from pursuing nuclear capabilities. If you look at our two candidates for the presidency, although they are eager to criticize one another, both of them have taken very similar positions on Iran. Romney and the President have both supported strong sanctions, and those sanctions have become harsher and harsher. I really believe that soft power and economic sanctions are the way to disarm a nuclear Iran. Setting this so called red line signals that we don’t have faith that our sanctions can work, and that we are preparing for and encouraging the use of hard power hegemony to solve our problems.

  7. I agree that diplomacy and sanctions are the better way of stopping Iran’s nuclear power. I am concerned though that Iran is still not stopping. They have already threatened to take out Israel and they seem to be going down that road pretty speedily. I am worried that sanctions will not work after time though. I feel like the Iranian government will find some other way to continue supporting their nuclear wants on the expense of the Iranian people. They may also try to hide this from the rest of the world, showing that all is well in their country. I recently saw the movie 2016 which talks a lot about Obama. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRbqMGtvQD0 (this is the trailer) I found it biased but informative. What Obama is doing with this crisis is a perfect evidence of the theory Dr. Dinesh D’Souza lays out as Obama as a non-colonialist.

  8. I would agree more with bmedwards. I agree that there is already a red line set, but that the US needs to follow up a little more closely with those sanctions and red lines. Iran has to know that we mean business. It’s like a father disciplining a child. The father has to follow through on what he says to discipline the child so that the child learns what to do and what not to do. If the father says he will do something, and doesn’t, the child will continue to take advantage of doing what he wants because he knows that the father is just saying things. The same principle applies with the US and Iran. Obviously it is not a father-child relationship. But Iran must know that they cannot play around with the nuclear program in such an unstable environment. And only economic sanctions and the like may not be enough to stop Iran. If the US sits back and doesn’t take action, the US could have a bigger problem than if they didn’t intervene earlier.


  9. Well, let’s not be labelists, but the President’s background and upbringing is not exactly pro-semitic. That’s not to say he is anti-israel, but many democrats are jewish, and very very very pro-israel. So it’s not surprising that he’s getting some major flack for his decision to not uphold israel’s stance on Iran. It’s been a long road for the President on foreign policy in the middle east and muslim worlds, especially where those two overlap. Iran is not going to stop with redlines being set. They will feel more pressured to defend themselves. They will just be more secretive in how they develop weapons and less open to UN inspections. The President should have been more supportive and proactive in his communications with Israel, but being realistic, the President has a demographic to win for the reelection, and being overly agressive seems to harm that support.


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