AIPAC policy conference roundup

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Panetta reassures AIPAC crowd of Obama Administration’s commitment to Israel

WASHINGTON, DC—Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addressed the AIPAC Policy Conference on Tuesday, reserving much of his speech to discuss his own personal commitment to Israel, and to reassure the audience of President Obama’s dedication as well.

“The bonds between Israel and the US will only grow,” Panetta said. “Even in the face of budget reductions, the defense strategy that we have designed makes very clear our commitment to confront and defeat any adversary, any time, any where.”

When it comes to Iran, Panetta reiterated, “of course we prefer a diplomatic path. And as the Prime Minister has said, military action is the last alternative when all else fails. But make no mistake, when all else fails we will act.”

The United States is devoted to ensuring Israel’s military superiority in the region, Panetta said. He cited a 10-year, $30 billion commitment to Israel’s security, and claimed that the president has committed “more than $650 million in Department of Defense funding for Israeli missile defense.”

The defense secretary also disclosed that the United States will provide Israel with the highly expensive, new fifth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“This makes [Israel] the only country in the Middle East with fifth generation fighter capacity…maintaining Israel’s military edge for years to come.”

JointMedia News Service

Netanyahu applauds Obama's acknowledgement of Israel’s ‘right to make its own decisions’

Click photo to download. Caption: President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel deliver statements to the press prior to their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, March 5, 2012. Credit: Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.

Speaking to the press before meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the importance of Obama’s statement one day earlier that Iran’s leaders should “not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.”

Netanyahu, who thanked Obama for his “strong speech” on Sunday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, said “if there’s one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it’s that Israel and America stand together.”

“I think that above and beyond that are two principles, longstanding principles of American policy that you reiterated yesterday in your speech—that Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat; and that when it comes to Israel’s security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions,” Netanyahu told Obama. “I believe that’s why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself.”

“And after all, that's the very purpose of the Jewish state—to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny,” Netanyahu added. “And that’s why my supreme responsibility as Prime Minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.”

—JointMedia News Service

Obama ‘labored over’ word choice on Iran, Congressman says

Click photo to download. Caption: U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman. Credit: U.S. Congress.

WASHINGTON, DC—President Barack Obama said at the American Israel Public Affairs (AIPAC) policy conference Sunday that, “Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” 

When it comes to the Iranian threat, Obama’s specific use of the word “prevent” is a trend that began in his word choice 8-10 months ago, according to U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ).

“Our president is a former law professor and brilliant Harvard lawyer who, history tells us, chooses his words very carefully,” Rothman told JointMedia News Service, “and we also know that there were many who were lobbying for him to use the word ‘prevent’ before he ultimately said it publicly now and has repeated it now for 8-10 months.”

Rothman said he personally knows that Obama’s that choice of the word “prevent” was “deliberate and intentional, and was very much labored over before he fully embraced it, and has now told the world about it for these past 8-10 months.”

Asked why Rothman feels Obama “labored over” his word choice, the congressman responded that, “I think the president’s views on Iran have evolved as our military and intelligence understanding of Iran’s efforts and intentions have evolved.”

Obama said Sunday that, “when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.”

—JointMedia News Service 

Senate Minority Leader: Administration has a ‘talking point’ on Iran, not a policy 

Click photo to download. Caption: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the AIPAC conference Monday night. Credit: Maxine Dovere.

WASHINGTON, DC—The U.S. administration’s repeated statement that all options remain on the table for the Iranian nuclear threat is “not a policy,” but a “talking point,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference Monday night.

“As we’ve seen before, a talking point will not deter Iran,” McConnell said.

Instead, McConnell proposed the following U.S. policy: “If Iran, at any time, begins to enrich uranium to weapons-grade level, or decides to go forward with a weapons program, then the United States will use overwhelming force to end that program.”

The prospect of going ahead with military action “should not be taken lightly,” and action should only be taken with clear bipartisan support, McConnell said. But, “saying we support Israel doesn’t always ensure it.” Over the last four years, the senator said little has changed regarding America’s stated support for Israel. However, he said those statements haven’t stopped Iran from reportedly producing five years worth of medium-enriched uranium, developing ballistic missiles, and providing sanctuary for the financial backers of al-Qaeda.

“If Iran behaves the way it does without a nuclear weapon, then how would it behave with one?” he asked.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who followed McConnell’s remarks at AIPAC, said Iran has been a “talk priority” for the administration, and that Congress and the president have turned promises of action into “crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime.”

“It is time for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, return to the negotiating table, and abandon its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi said Israel’s existence “needs to be recognized as a fact by every nation on the face of the earth,” and that “Israel and America are friends and partners, now and forever.”

—JointMedia News Service

At AIPAC for final time as senator, Lieberman calls for U.S. embassy in Jerusalem

Click photo to download. Caption: U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman speaks at the AIPAC policy conference Monday morning. Credit: AIPAC.

WASHINGTON, DC—Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman, speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference for the final time as a U.S. Senator, called for moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the “eternal capital of the state of Israel,” Lieberman said, yet the U.S. embassy sits in Tel Aviv. Next year, the former vice presidential candidate and the most prominent Sabbath observer in Washington said he is “just leaving the Senate” and “not retiring.”

Lieberman promised to remain an advocate for “a strong America, a strong Israel, and an unbreakable relationship between America and Israel” following the end of his 24-year Senate career.

“The bond between our two great democracies and our two great peoples is deeper, and wider and stronger than ever,” he said of America and Israel.

On the topic of Iran, Lieberman said, “Do not let anyone tell you that a nuclear-armed Iran is just Israel’s problem.” The problem with Iran’s nuclear program is not “what Israel might do about it, and when,” he said. When it comes to U.S. action, Lieberman said it’s not a matter of whether we can stop Iran, but “whether we choose to stop them.”

—JointMedia News Service

Analysts: Obama re-election not a done deal

WASHINGTON, DC—Republican candidate Mitt Romney may not have clinched his own nomination just yet, but President Obama hasn’t sealed his re-election either, analysts concluded at the AIPAC Policy conference on Sunday afternoon.

“[Romney] is still wobbling a little bit, he’s right on the edge,” said Republican political consultant Mike Murphy, referring to Romney’s struggle in Michigan. Romney barely won the Michigan primary, his home state. Former Senator Rick Santorum claimed half the delegates, although he lost the popular vote.

Political commentator Bill Kristol said he believes Romney’s campaign has “foolishly” tried to sell the notion that his victory in the primary is inevitable.

“You should be respectful of the voters,” Kristol said. “I think the campaign is a little off-putting that way.”

Ohio is the key to gaining the Republican nomination, the analysts said, while the economy will determine Obama’s re-election.

“This thing is not at all in the bag for the president,” said Paul Begala, political commentator and former advisor to President Bill Clinton.  

Donna Brazile, the Democratic National Committee’s vice chair of voter registration and participation, said that if Obama sticks with his current message on domestic and national security issues, he “will do alright.”

—JointMedia News Service

Obama to award Shimon Peres the Medal of Freedom

Click photo to download. Shimon Peres acknowledges President Obama's announcement on Sunday that he will receive the Medal of Freedom. Credit: White House.

WASHINGTON, DC—President Barack Obama used the beginning of his Sunday address at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to announce that he will honor Israeli President Shimon Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that the U.S. can award to a civilian.

“The United States and Israel share interests, but we always share those human values that Shimon spoke about,” Obama said.

Peres, who was visibly stunned after Obama made the announcement, had said before the American president’s speech that Israel’s four “core values” are as follows: a moral core, a pursuit of peace and security, a quest for knowledge, and an alliance with the U.S.

“The pursuit of peace, for us, is not a passing opportunity,” Peres said. “It is a moral imperative.”

But while peace is always Israel’s “first option,” the country “will prevail” if it is forced to fight, Peres said. He added that Obama has “made it clear” that the U.S. won’t allow Iran to become a nuclear power.

“There is no space between [Israel and the U.S.], our message is clear,” Peres said. “Iran will not develop nuclear weapons.”

—JointMedia News Service

Posted on March 6, 2012 and filed under Briefs, News, U.S..