— by Max Samis
Over the weekend, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough spoke in front of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Weinberg Founders Conference. McDonough covered a wide range of topics regarding the Middle East, but spent a significant amount of time discussing the United States’ special relationship with Israel.
Highlights of speech follow the jump.
- Current state of relations between Obama and Israel.
- Obama’s efforts to stop Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
No president since Harry Truman has done as much for Israel’s security as Barack Obama. Record levels of security assistance; the Iron Dome rocket system, which as recently as several weeks ago intercepted 80 to 85% of rockets aimed from Gaza at Israeli homes, hospitals, and schools; the largest ever joint military exercises and most comprehensive consultations between our political and military intelligence leaders; and in the President himself, a president who has stood up repeatedly – sadly, often alone – against attempts to delegitimize Israel in international organizations…
All the while, the United States will be a stalwart friend and ally of Israel. I can assure you, that will never waver in our pursuit of peace.
McDonough also discussed the threat posed by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and how the sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama have had a strong impact on the Iranian economy. He said:
When [President Obama] took office, the Iranian regime thought itself ascendant. Externally, Iran’s reach seemed to be longer than ever, and the international community was divided on how to deal with its illicit nuclear program. Multilateral diplomacy had stalled, and around the world, many had begun to give Iran the benefit of the doubt, somehow blaming the United States for the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program…
President Obama was determined to reverse this dangerous dynamic, to highlight the danger of Iran’s illicit program – one, incidentally, that it is pursuing at great cost to its own people – and to isolate Iran, rather than the United States. That determination is beginning to pay off. He has repeatedly stressed his determination to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and has consistently given Tehran a choice: Fulfill your international obligations, or face increasing pressure. To date, Iran has refused.
And so, together with our partners, we have put in place the strongest sanctions that the Iranian government has ever faced. As a result, Iran finds itself isolated from the international community; finds it harder than ever to acquire materials for its nuclear and weapons program; and to conduct transactions in dollars and Euros. It’s struggled to buy refined petroleum and the goods it needs to maintain and modernize its oil and gas sector; it’s unable to access over half its foreign currency reserves; and its currency has lost over half its value since this time last year. Throughout that country, Iranians are turning to gold to secure their assets, and the Iranian government has introduced strict controls on the sales and purchase of foreign currencies.
This is the pain and misery that the regime itself has imposed on the Iranian people. Leading global companies have stopped doing business there, and more recently, we, working with Congress and our international partners, have increased pressure on Iran by targeting its central bank and its oil exports – the main source of its revenue. The results have been significant – in fact, far greater than we would have anticipated, with countries throughout the world acting to reduce their purchase of Iranian oil and to reduce their exposure to Iran’s financial system. I should note that 11 countries so far have significantly reduced their imports of Iranian oil. Others have indicated their intent to do so, including countries as diverse as South Korea and Turkey, and we expect still others to indicate a similar intent in the coming days and weeks.
The purpose of this pressure is not punishment. It is to convince Iran that the price of pursuing nuclear weapons is too high, and that the time is now to make good on its commitments to the international community. And it’s time for Iran’s leaders to answer why it refuses to prove its peaceful intentions, instead further isolating its own people, choosing to pay the price of intransigence, rather than choosing to join the international community of nations…
And so, it’s clear that the change we are witnessing in the region is not opening the door to a greater Iranian influence. Today, a dynamic region is moving away from, and frankly beyond, Iran. Not towards it. We know that, and importantly, we know and have seen that Iran’s leaders know, and are fearful, of exactly that trend…