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Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama, addressing the AIPAC conference in Washington DC, made sure to express his unconditional support of Israel and took great pains to clarify his position on Iran: tough negotiations as leverage.

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AIPAC Annual Conference
June 4, 2008

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (D): I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything. And as president, I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.


PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Does that sound like John McCain? Well, this was in fact Barack Obama’s first speech—at the AIPAC meeting in Washington—after clinching his historic nomination. Strangely enough, he didn’t get top billing; Hillary Clinton did. Obama performed and charmed like a rock star. He was gracious towards Hillary. He spoke from his heart. He presented his credentials as a staunch supporter of Israel. After all, in front of an AIPAC crowd he had to. He promised $30 billion in aid to Israel in the next decade. Echoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he promised enhanced cooperation on missile defense. And then he launched a critique of recent US foreign policy. Or did he?


OBAMA: There are those who would continue and intensify this failed status quo, ignoring eight years of accumulated evidence that our foreign policy is dangerously flawed. As president, I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security. And I won’t wait, I won’t wait until the waning days of my presidency; I will take an active role and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my administration.


As progressive as he may seem, Obama may also follow the script of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.


OBAMA: There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations. That is why I opposed holding elections in 2006 with Hamas on the ballot. And Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.


But it’s on Iran that Obama goes way beyond McCain’s apocalyptic vision.


OBAMA: The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat. Senator McCain refuses to understand or acknowledge the failure of the policy he would continue. He criticizes my willingness to use strong diplomacy, but offers only an alternative reality, one where the war in Iraq has somehow put Iran on its heels. The truth is the opposite. Iran has strengthened its position. Iran is now enriching uranium, and it has reportedly stockpiled 150 kilos of low-enriched uranium. Its support for terrorism and threats towards Israel have increased. Those are the facts, and they cannot be denied. But as president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leaders at a time and place of my choosing, if and only if it can advance the interests of the United States. Only recently have some come to think that diplomacy by definition cannot be tough. They forget the example of Truman and Kennedy and Reagan. These presidents understood that diplomacy backed by real leverage was a fundamental tool of statecraft.


Obama’s diplomacy, backed by real leverage, essentially backs Iran into a corner. Perhaps Obama should have listened to a certain speech in Tehran, where Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, said:


Tehran, Iran
June 3, 2008

AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, SUPREME LEADER, IRAN (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The Iranian nation is not after nuclear weapons. Iran is after the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and we will strongly pursue and reach it despite the envy of our enemies.


So this is where the buck stops in Iran. He is the boss, Ayatollah Khamenei, not Ahmadinejad. And he’s saying flat out, once again, so everybody understands, Iran does not need a nuclear bomb. It is anti-Islamic.


KHAMENEI: Today, no wise nation and no wise officials are interested in making a nuclear weapon. The Iranian nation objects to atomic weapons from both Islamic and intellectual points of view.

OBAMA: If Iran fails to change course when presented with this choice by the United States, it will be clear to the people of Iran and to the world that the Iranian regime is the author of its own isolation.


So Obama is saying he’ll lead tough negotiations, but if they fail, he will apply John McCain’s and Ehud Olmert’s apocalyptic medicine. Is that change in foreign policy? Doesn’t sound like it. We have only five months to find out.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.