The Speech the President Ought to Give
President Obama speaks in Jerusalem in 2013. Photo: Real Clear Politics

On Friday, August 28, 2015, President Obama will be featured in a webcast presented by the Jewish Federations of North America. Thousands are expected to log on to hear what the president has to say. You can participate by clicking here to register. 

The president knows a thing or two about delivering a speech, but given the missteps and bruised feelings that have characterized much of the recent debate over the Iran deal, I think the president would be well-advised to say something along the lines of the following…

My friends, thank you for taking the time to join me today as I discuss the United States’ position regarding Iran’s nuclear activities and why I believe it is the best way forward for our country and for Israel, not only under the current circumstances, but also in light of what the future will almost certainly bring.

I would like to acknowledge at the outset, however, that the road we have traveled to get to this point has been a bumpy one, and not merely because of the inevitable difficulties inherent in challenging negotiations.

Many of the potholes and obstacles we’ve encountered have been of our own creation. As president, I take responsibility not only for the strategies we’ve pursued, but for the things that I have said, and the things that have been said, sometimes in the heat of the moment, by members of my administration in the course of our discussions regarding the merits of the deal with Iran. 

I am keenly aware of the power that words can have to move people and to inspire them. But words can do harm, as well, sending messages – whether intended or not – that are neither helpful nor appropriate to the circumstances.

Accordingly, I want to apologize for any insensitivity I and others in my administration may have shown to the concerns of those who are opposed to this deal with Iran, and in particular to members of the Jewish community who are deeply concerned about the impact of this deal on our close and valued ally, Israel.

Your concerns are real and based in fact and experience, and I appreciate the opportunity today to try and address them as clearly, and appropriately, as I can.  

Let me begin by noting that we have negotiated this agreement with a firm understanding and full appreciation of Iran’s historical and current activities, nuclear and otherwise, including those that amount to terrorism. We take Iran’s assertions regarding its peaceful intentions as essential to the agreement, but not as anything that confirms Iran’s intent, or as an ironclad indicator of Iran’s behavior over the months and years to come.

We believe that the inspections regime that we have agreed upon will be sufficient to monitor Iran’s activities over the pendency of this agreement, and the mechanisms and remedies for potential breaches of the agreement realistic and effective. We think that there are ample incentives under the agreement for Iran to comply, particularly when considered alongside the still effective prohibitions against terror financing and arms sales and trafficking. We think that limiting Iran’s activities broadly and deeply will make it far less likely that bad things will happen for at least the next decade, and that absent this agreement, the likelihood of bad things happening would be much, much greater.

None of us has a crystal ball, however. Some have said we should have kept our boot on Iran’s neck – thereby achieving a “better deal”– by not lifting sanctions until many more mileposts and indicators of peaceful intent could be verified.

Others have said that we should have included in the agreement a variety of other safeguards and promises, some completely unrelated to nuclear activity, in order to secure a better deal.

In every negotiation a judgment has to be made on what can be asked and what can be achieved in the context of the deal. There are many, many variables and factors that affect a party’s negotiating position. I can tell you with the greatest assurance that the judgments we made were made with the goal of securing not just any agreement, but the best agreement we could possibly get, consistent with our objectives before and the negotiating positions of all the parties involved during these negotiations.

In the end, it comes down to trust. Not our trust of the Iranians, but our trust in each other. I took an oath of office to protect and defend the United States of America, and it is inconceivable that I would willfully pursue a course of action that increases the dangers posed to our country and our citizens.

The security interests of Israel and Israelis are also of exceptional strategic importance both to our country and to me personally. I have heard those concerns loud and clear, and I have taken them to heart.

Finally, I am aware that history will judge my administration in large part on the success of this deal, but that has never been my motivation for pursuing the agreement so doggedly. Rather, my sole motivation has been to achieve an agreement that leaves the United States and our allies safer and more secure than when I took office.

I believe this agreement does just that.

Thank you for your time today, and for your understanding. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

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