Nadler says Obama is ‘in exactly the right place’ on Iran sanctions, even if Netanyahu is more skeptical

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Jerrold Nadler. (From Jerry Nadler's Flickr stream.)
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On the question of how to deal with Iran, Representative Jerrold Nadler thinks Barack Obama is doing the right thing, notwithstanding the skepticism of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"I think the president is in exactly the right place," Nadler told me in an interview last week.

Nadler, a liberal Democrat but generally a hawk on Israel, was referring to the president's "aggressive sanctions" policy intended to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and his promise to keep all options on the table.

The Republican candidates have criticized Obama for not promising more explicitly to provide military backing for Israel against Iran.

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The central question among Israel's staunchest supporters, like Nadler, seems to be how much faith to put in the international sanctions to persuade Iran to stop its uranium enrichment, and how long to allow the sanctions to take effect.

"The president thinks, and many of the people in Israel think—I was in Israel a couple of weeks ago and we spoke to a lot of security people in Israel, and depends on who you talk to, a lot of them think that we still have time that sanctions can work—if they're strong enough," he said. "The president clearly thinks so and he wants them to have time to work. And I agree with that."

Nadler said it was impossible to tell exactly where Netanyahu—or the president, for that matter—privately stand on the issue, but that Netanyahu expressed less confidence about sanctions than some other Israeli officials.

"I think the prime minister is more skeptical of the sanctions," he said. "And frankly when we spoke to him, he seemed more skeptical than a lot of other people in the Israeli government. Period. But he's not saying we should attack tomorrow morning either."

According to Nadler, there are divisions about where the red lines that trigger military action should be set, but no real disagreement about the president's commitment to safeguarding Israel's security.

"Every military person, every intelligence person, says that this president is very good, that the American military aid and cooperation with Israel was sharply stepped up by Obama, beyond what it was under Bush, sharply stepped up and greater than it's ever been, that intelligence sharing is almost total, which is unprecedented," he said. "There may be a disagreement on emphasis and timing at this point and that's about it." 

For his part, Nadler said he supports the toughest possible sanctions.

"If you really ratchet up the sanctions and the oil, you're going to be putting tremendous pressure on that regime, in a way that you haven't done before," he said, with emphasis on the word tremendous. "I think the sanctions ought to be tough as possible."

Asked about the rhetoric coming from Republicans, who have criticized the president as insufficiently supportive of Israel, and, in some cases, expressed a willingness to bomb Iran in the very near future, Nadler said they were being "irresponsible."

"What they're saying, if you parse it exactly, what they're saying is exactly what Obama is saying. 'He's not being strong enough, all options ought to be on the table.' Well, all options are on the table. He's said that repeatedly. I mean, take what Romney's saying and what the president is saying and, other than criticizing the president, he seems to be saying the same thing.

"On the other hand, you get the distinct impression that what he's really saying is, 'Let's get this over with and attack them right away.' And that I think—I'm not privy to all the intelligence—but I think that's an irresponsible position."

Reuters reported today the Iranian development of a nuclear weapon may be less further along than previously thought.