WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama addressed the largest pro-Israel policy conference Sunday morning in a speech that offered tough words for Iran but an even stronger defense of his administration's own policies toward Israel.
"If during this political season you hear some question of my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts," Obama said in his speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "There should not be a shred of doubt right now: When the chips are down, I have Israel's back."
As the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran loomed over the three-day conference, Obama reaffirmed his willingness to use "all elements of American power" -- including military force -- to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and denounced a policy of containment.
Obama will meet on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, where the two are expected to vigorously debate Israeli's concern that the U.S. has not done enough to prevent Iran for acquiring a nuclear weapon.
But in his speech, Obama also defended his administration's approach of sanctions and diplomacy, saying that he would rather see diplomatic solutions prevail than military ones, and that he has "a deeply-held preference for peace over war."
"Already there is too much loose talk of war," Obama said. "Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend upon to fund their nuclear program. For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster; now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built."
A broader challenge facing Obama at the AIPAC conference, and heading into a heated election season, was the increasingly suspicious pro-Israel community.
By the time Obama spoke at the conference, a session-opening foreign policy roundtable had injected a mood of partisan rancor into the proceedings, with Liz Cheney, a former State Department official, and daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, telling the audience that she hoped that next year's AIPAC forum would take place under a different administration.
"There is no president who has done more to delegitimize and undermine the State of Israel than President Obama," Cheney said, to huge applause from the expected 13,000 attendees at the Washington Convention Center.
The audience cheered slightly louder when Jane Harmon, the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center and former Democratic congresswoman from California, responded that Israel must not become a "political football."
Running off a litany of examples of how his administration had backed Israel's interests in the past few years -- from the highest level of security aid ever to his staunch objections to Palestinian attempts to seek statehood at the United Nations last year -- Obama declared, ""As you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words, you can look at my deeds."
"In the end support for Israel is bipartisan and that is how it should stay," Obama said.
BEFORE YOU GO
06/19/2012 9:05 AM EDT
Moscow talks make little progress.
MOSCOW — A top Russian official made a last-ditch effort to save talks over Iran's nuclear program from collapse Tuesday, holding a meeting with Iran's chief envoy.
But diplomats said the negotiations remained deadlocked as they went into a second and possibly final day, with the presidents of the United States and Russia urging Iran to agree to curb nuclear activities that could be turned toward arming warheads and Iran demanding a lifting of sanctions crippling its oil industry.
Read more on HuffPost World.
06/18/2012 12:09 PM EDT
Iran, West start nuclear talks.
MOSCOW, June 18 (Reuters) - World powers began two days of talks with Iran on Monday to try to end a decade-long stand-off over Tehran's nuclear programme and avert the threat of a new war in the Middle East.
In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran would be prepared to stop enriching uranium to a higher level - a process that could be used to make nuclear arms - if the six powers agreed to meet its needs for the fuel. But it is not clear how much influence Ahmadinejad has over the negotiations and whether his remarks reflect Tehran's position in the talks.
Read the full article on HuffPost World.
06/13/2012 6:50 PM EDT
All proposals on the table.
TEHRAN, Iran -- Proposals from both Iran and the group of six world powers will be on the table for nuclear talks in Moscow next week, not just the West's demand to halt Iran's highest level uranium enrichment, Iran's top negotiator said Wednesday.
Read more on HuffPost World.
06/08/2012 10:20 AM EDT
New round of nuke talks.
VIENNA, June 8 (Reuters) - Iran and the United Nations nuclear watchdog began a new round of talks on Friday in an attempt to seal a deal to resume a long-stalled probe into suspected atomic weapon research in the Islamic state.
Read the full story on HuffPost World.
06/08/2012 7:33 AM EDT
Ahmadinejad: 'Iran won't build nuclear bomb.'
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's president says Iran has no intention of building nuclear weapons, but fear would not deter it if it decided to make them.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments suggest a toughening of Iran's position ahead of June 18-19 talks with world powers over Tehran's nuclear program.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany want Iran to shut down its highest level uranium enrichment facilities. Ahmadinejad's remarks suggest Iran would refuse.
Ahmadinejad made the comments during a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday in China. His remarks were posted on his website.
The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes like power generation and cancer treatment. (AP)
06/06/2012 12:03 PM EDT
Smuggling of epic proportions
The BBC reports that $20 billion worth of goods -- the equivalent of nearly 30 percent of the country’s annual official trade -- are smuggled into Iran's borders every year.
Watch the full story here.
06/03/2012 3:11 PM EDT
Clinton draws no conclusions
STOCKHOLM — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she's not drawing any conclusions about what effect the latest hash words from Iran might have on the potential success of upcoming nuclear talks in Moscow.
05/31/2012 2:08 PM EDT
Iran's Forrest Gump.
Iranian-born Reza Baluchi is a regular Forrest Gump. Ten years ago he ran away from Iran. He’s run across the United States twice since then, once around its perimeter. Yet now he’s planning his biggest journey of all, CNN reports, a run around the world that will take him through his home country once more.
It started when he ran away from home at the age of eight. Later he ran away from his homeland, Iran, and spent seven years on a bicycle, pedaling 49,700 miles across 55 countries.
In 2002, he reached America. He now lives in a tent in Death Valley.
It's been nearly 10 years since Reza Baluchi escaped from Iran. He has run across the United States twice and around its perimeter once. He sets out on every journey with the same mission: to spread a message of world peace.
Read the full story here.
05/31/2012 2:01 PM EDT
Jackson Pollock painting returned.
After being seized by Iranian customs over a monetary dispute, a painting by Jackson Pollock has been returned to the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran, the BBC reports.
Mural on Indian Red Ground was seized by the country's customs service on 11 May after being on loan to Japan.
The service said it confiscated the work over money owed by the Ministry of Culture, which runs the museum.
The ministry said the painting had been returned "after negotiations.”
Read the full story here.
05/29/2012 7:24 PM EDT
Dissident blogger in Iran.
Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, a 26-year-old Iranian dissident blogger, has spent the past 13 months in solitary confinement at Iran’s Evin Prison, BBC Persian reports.
International Business Times reports that Maleki has written a letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, including the following passage:
“Leader of the Islamic Republic,
We must admit that judicial independence is not possible with the existence of so many intelligence and security entities.
We must admit that the society is facing a great explosion, and the current superficial peace is basically due to oppression, intimidation, imprisonments and suppression.
We must know that the thoughts of freedom seekers cannot be enchained! Ideologies cannot be tortured! Truth cannot be suppressed!”