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Obama on a Nuclear Iran: Yes They Can?

9:26 AM, Jan 27, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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From Obama's interview with Al-Arabiya:

Q Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.

Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past -- none of these things have been helpful.

But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.

Wouldn't a simple 'no, a nuclear Iran is unacceptable to the United States and our allies' have sufficed? Instead Obama says that Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon is "unhelpful," that it's "not conducive to peace." When Obama was in Israel, he said that "a nuclear Iran would pose a grave threat and the world must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." He added that he would "take no options off the table in dealing with this potential Iranian threat." In the first debate of the general election, Obama reiterated that the United States "cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran." But when Obama has the chance to speak directly to the Muslim world, he can only muster retread rhetoric from his inaugural address about clenched fists and open hands.

President Bush was incapable of engaging the Muslim world with his own words, but neither was it possible for the Muslim world to confuse his view of American interests in that region. President Obama has the potential to secure real progress through his skill as a communicator, but there's always been a fear that some portion of his success in negotiating difficult issues was the result of a willingness, or perhaps a compulsion, to tell his audience whatever it is he thinks they want to hear.