WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the only foreign leader he can recall who has forcibly interfered in US foreign policy.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has injected himself forcefully into this debate on American foreign policy in Washington,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
Can you recall a time when a foreign head of government has done that? ” Mr Zakaria asked.
“I do not recall a similar example,” Mr Obama replied. In another interview with Mic News, which takes direct questions from the audience, a 22-year-old Iranian woman asked Mr Obama whether there was another way to secure the nuclear deal “without hurting Iranian people so much” with sanctions.
President Obama said he believed enacting crippling economic sanctions was the only way to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear programme.
The United States and five other world powers — Russia, China, France, Great Britain and Germany — reached an agreement with Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear program.
US Congress is expected to vote on the deal by Sept 17 but Mr Obama’s Republican opponents, who have a majority in both the House and Senate, have pledged to undo the agreement. The Israeli prime minister supports their goal and has mounted a public campaign to convince the American people that the deal would hurt their interests.
“Obviously the relationship between the US and Israel is deep. It is profound. It is reflected in my policies. But as I said in the speech yesterday on the substance, the prime minister is wrong on this,” Mr Obama said when asked to comment on Mr Netanyahu’s efforts.
“I can show that basic assumptions he has made are incorrect. If in fact my argument is right, that this is the best way for Iran not to get a nuclear weapon, that is not just good for the United States, that is very good for Israel.”
Mr Obama told CNN he understood why Israelis were suspicious and cautious about a deal with Iran, but assured the American public that, “we’re preserving all our options so that if Iran does cheat, we can still exercise the same set of options that we have in place today”.
The United States’ “commitment to Israel is sacrosanct,” Mr Obama said, adding, “I’ve been very clear about the fact that if Israel were attacked by Iran, for example, there’s no doubt that not just me, but any US administration would do everything that we needed to do to make sure that Israel was protected,” he said.
In his interview to Mic News, Mr Obama said that there’s a chance the deal could allow Iran to shed its label as an international pariah, but only if it stopped funneling money to terrorist groups and threatening US allies in the Persian Gulf and Israel.
“I can guarantee you that the moment the Iranian regime stopped engaging in that kind of rhetoric and that kind of behavior that Iran would just by virtue of its size, talent, resources, immediately rise in its influence and its power in the eyes of the world,” he said.
“That’s what I hope can happen. It will require a shift in the politics and the leadership of Iran — a different mindset in terms of how they are approaching the rest of the world and how they’re approaching countries like the United States,” he added. “And perhaps, it’ll be this new generation that’s able to make that happen.”