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Will Obama Clarify His Shorthand Answers on Iran at AIPAC on Sunday?

At Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “clarify” her statement the day before to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who had asked her if the administration seeks to prevent Iran becoming a “nuclear threshold state.” She had responded that the policy is to prevent Iran from “attaining nuclear weapons.”

Berman asked Clinton to clarify if administration policy was in fact “merely to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons,” or rather to “prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapons capability.” At virtually the same moment, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was being asked the same question at his press conference. A reporter asked him to “clarify, is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from a nuclear weapon, or to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons capability?” Clinton and Carney — speaking virtually simultaneously at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — gave opposite answers.

Carney’s answer was, “Well, I think I’ve been clear that we are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” Clinton’s answer was, “I think it’s absolutely clear that the president’s policy is to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons capability.” Clinton then asserted that her answer – which differed not only from Carney’s response but from her own response the day before – reiterated the existing policy of the administration: “Let there be no confusion in any shorthand answer to any question. The policy remains the same.”

Someone should tell President Obama. On multiple occasions, he has articulated his policy as – to use Berman’s words – merely preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. In his 2008 AIPAC speech, Obama said “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” In his first White House press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009, Obama said he would not allow Iran to proceed with “deploying a nuclear weapon.” In the 2012 State of the Union Address, he said “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” [Emphasis added].

Israel is highly unlikely to stand by while Iran develops nuclear weapons capability, much less actually obtaining, deploying, or getting a nuclear weapon. Israel’s policy reflects the fact that once nuclear weapons capability is attained, getting nuclear weapons requires only a secret political decision that may not be discovered by U.S. intelligence until after the fact. That is what happened in North Korea.

Sen. Graham and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), together with prominent senators and representatives from both parties, have introduced identical “Sense of the Senate” and “Sense of the House” resolutions, which affirm that it is “a vital national interest of the United States to prevent [Iran] from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability” and reject “any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran.”

On Sunday, the president speaks again to AIPAC. We will see if he endorses the Graham/Ros-Lehtinen resolutions or sticks with his prior shorthand answers.


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