President Barack Obama reiterated at his first press conference in Washington after election victory on Wednesday that his “top priority” will be far on the recovery of the US economy — “jobs and growth”. The only foreign-policy issues to figure were the Iran problem and Syria.
Obama emphatically stressed a diplomatic solution to the Iran problem. He phrased a compromise formula: “There should be a way in which they [Iran] can enjoy peaceful nuclear power while still meeting their international obligations and providing clear assurances to the international community that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon.”
Low-grade uranium enrichment to be allowed under strict IAEA safeguards? Seems so. Most significant, Obama confirmed his intention to “make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue” between the US and Iran “to see if we can get this thing resolved.”
Bravo! Obama said the onus is on Iran to “walk through the door.” He pointedly refrained from voicing coercive sentiments. He was manifestly conciliatory, stressing that US won’t stand on “diplomatic niceties or protocols” in working out the one-on-one conversation with Tehran, and “if Iran is serious about wanting to resolve this, they’ll be in a position to resolve it.”
On Syria, Obama said US will talk with the Syrian opposition’s umbrella group that was formed in Doha over the weekend and sees it as “a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people”, but Washington is “not yet prepared to recognize them as some sort of government in exile” despite it being a “broad-based representative group.”
He explained: “One of the questions that we’re going to continue to press is making sure that that opposition is committed to a democratic Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria. We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition, and one of the things that we have to be on guard about — particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures — is that we’re not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks who would do Americans harm, or do israelis harm, or otherwise engage in actions that are detrimental to our national security.” [Emphasis added.]
So, the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens at Benghazi has turned out to be a defining moment for the US’ Middle East strategy. Obama made it clear the US is nowhere near deciding to arm the Syrian opposition fighters.
This stance won’t go down well in Riyadh, Doha and Ankara. Interestingly, Obama is also refusing to endorse the enthusiasm shown by Britain and France. To quote Obama, US wants to make sure “we are encouraging the most moderate, thoughtful elements of the opposition that are committed to inclusion, observance of human rights, and working cooperatively with us over the long term.” [Emphasis added.]
Of course, Obama’s repeated reference to an “inclusive” transition in Syria will be noticed in Moscow and Beijing. The transcript of the press conference is here.
– November 15, 2012