By Julian Pecquet - 03/04/13 08:14 PM EST
President Obama isn't bluffing when he says he'll go to war to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, Vice President Biden told the nation's main pro-Israel lobby on Monday.
“We have a shared strategic commitment,” Biden told the annual conference of the American Israel Public Action Committee (AIPAC). “Let me make clear what that commitment is: It is to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, period. End of discussion. Not contain. Prevent.”
“We're not looking for war,” Biden continued. “We are looking to and ready to negotiate peacefully. But all options — including military force — are on the table.”
Biden went on to justify the continued efforts by the U.S. and its partners in the six-party talks to reach a deal with Iran. Israeli leaders have long argued that Iran is not interested in a compromise and is merely biding its time while it continues to enrich uranium for a potential weapon.
Speaking via satellite after Biden, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told AIPAC that “words alone will not stop Iran,” and called on sanctions to be coupled with a “clear and credible military threat.”
“Iran has made it clear that it will continue to defy the will of the international community. Time after time, the world powers have tabled diplomatic proposals to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully. But diplomacy has not worked,” he said.
Netanyahu avoided any direct criticism of the administration, but said Iran was almost at the final stage needed to create a bomb — the red line he set for an Israeli intervention during last year's speech to the United Nations. Obama has not issued such a red line, vowing only not to allow the country to gain a weapon.
“To prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we cannot allow Iran to cross that line,” Netanyahu repeated. “We must stop its nuclear enrichment program before it will be too late.”
But in his address, Biden said diplomatic efforts needed more time.
“Our strong preference — the world's preference — is for a diplomatic solution. So while that window is closing, we believe there is still time and space to achieve the outcome,” Biden said. “God forbid the need to act occurs, it is critically important for the whole world to know we did everything in our power — we did everything that reasonably could have been expected — to avert [war]. That matters.”
Biden's comments come after a difficult fight to win Chuck Hagel's confirmation as Defense secretary. Hagel's views on Israel came under scrutiny in that Senate fight, and raised new questions about Obama's commitment to Israel.
Obama will make his first visit to Israel as president later this month. Iran, Syria and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will be the three main points of discussion, Netanyahu said.
“I look forward to President Obama’s visit,” he said. “It will give me and the people of Israel the opportunity to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel.”
Throughout his address, Biden underscored Obama's staunch support for Israel. Despite the billions of dollars sent there in aid — notably the U.S. funding for the Israeli-designed Iron Dome anti-missile system — some 39 percent of Americans think the Obama administration hasn't been supportive enough of Israel, according to a recent poll for The Hill.
“I've served with eight presidents of the United States of America,” Biden said, “and I can assure you unequivocally: No president has done as much to physically secure the state of Israel as President Barack Obama.”
Biden said that included standing by Israel when the rest of the world criticized the 2008-2009 war in Gaza and Israel's embargo. The United States has also been one of the very few countries to vote against the Palestinian Liberation Organization's bid to join the United Nations as a non-voting member.
“What worries me more than at any moment in the 40 years I've been engaged ... is the wholesale, seemingly coordinated effort to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state,” he said. “President Obama has been a bulwark against those insidious efforts every step of the way.”
AIPAC welcomed Biden's remarks.
"The Vice President today made a very important statement that the president is not bluffing in his commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," spokesman Marshall Wittmann said.
Biden went on to call for patience in dealing with the changes left by the Arab Spring, notably in Egypt.
“We're not looking at what's happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses,” he said. “We also know this: There's no legitimate alternative at this point than engagement.”
Biden also defended the administration's cautious policy in Syria, where opposition forces have waged a bloody struggle to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced $60 million in direct food and medicine aid to the rebels last week, but many lawmakers in both parties want the United States to take a more active role following the death of 70,000 people over the past 23 months. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have led the call for providing weapons to opposition forces, a move the administration has rejected.
“Assad must go,” Biden said. “But we are not signing up for one murderous gang replacing another in Damascus.”
Updated at 4:18 p.m.