President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, on Monday recalled her first visit to Israel, speaking at the AIPAC policy conference.
In her first public remarks since saying last week that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's March 3 speech in Congress is "destructive" to the relationship between the two countries, Rice remembered traveling to Israel from Egypt, on one of the first TWA flights from Cairo after the peace agreement between the two countries was signed.
Reflecting on that trip, Rice connected it to the relations between Israel and the United States and said that “the relationship between the United States and Israel is one between two peoples and the millions of intimate personal connections that bind us.”
“Our relationship has deepened and grown for nearly 70 years,” she said, noting that both Democrat and Republican presidents - from Gerald Ford to George W. Bush - have stood by Israel over the years.
That relation is not negotiable and it never will be, Rice stressed. “Our alliance grows from generation to generation,” she said, using the Hebrew words “L’dor Vador”.
“Every president, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, has begun with a premise that strengthening the security of Israel is a national interest of the United States,” said Rice.
Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security “is deep and personal. I see it every day. I saw it when I accompanied him to Israel as a Senator in 2008 when he said Israel’s security is sacrosanct,” she continued.
“Today security cooperation is not just strong, it’s stronger than it’s ever been. Both Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have called it unprecedented, and that’s the way it’s going to stay,” she said.
The security assistance to Israel during Obama’s time in office has increased, with more than $20 billion in military financing since Obama took office, said Rice, who added, “It’s money well spent because it bolsters Israel’s ability to defend itself by itself in a very tough neighborhood.”
The United States “will remain a steadfast partner,” Rice said, but she also said, “We believe that a truly lasting peace can only be forged by direct talks. Like past administrations we are concerned by unilateral actions that assault Israel’s legitimacy. Like every administration we oppose Israeli settlement activity and we oppose Palestinian steps that throw obstacles to peace, including action at the ICC.”
Washington would like to see a “viable, sovereign Palestinian state living side by side with a Democratic, Jewish state of Israel,” she added.
Rice the turned to the nuclear talks with Iran, and said, “Our mutual security is also at the heart of Obama’s objective to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon. President Obama has repeated many times that all options are on the table and said in Jerusalem, ‘America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear armed Iran.’”
Obama “said it, he meant it and those are his orders to us all. That is still the way we see the danger of nuclear Iran today,” she stressed.
A nuclear Iran is a threat to Israel and is also an “unacceptable threat to the United States,” stressed Rice, who then stressed, “I want to be very clear: a bad deal is worse than no deal, and if that is the choice there will be no deal.”
“As of today significant gaps remain between the international community and Iran,” she said.
Referring to the interim deal that was reached between Iran and six world powers, Rice noted that it has stopped and rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has been doing away with its existing stockpile of high enriched uranium, has not constructed new nuclear facilities and stopped construction at the heavy water plant in Arak.
“What matters is Iran’s actions, not its words,” she went on to stress, noting that inspectors from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency have daily access to Iran’s nuclear sites.
She said that the world powers are working toward “a good, long-term comprehensive deal that verifiably prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon”. Rice stressed however that forever denying Iran the ability to pursue peaceful nuclear energy is not achievable and “is not a viable negotiating position, nor is it even attainable.”
She also spoke of the push for sanctions, noting that Obama is against imposing additional sanctions on Iran while negotiations are ongoing.
"Congress has played a hugely important role in helping to build our sanctions on Iran, but they shouldn't play the spoiler now. Additional sanctions or restrictive legislation enacted during the negotiation would blow up the talks, divide the international community and cause the United States to be blamed for the failure to reach a deal," said Rice, who stressed, however, that Obama will support new sanctions on the Islamic Republic should it walk away from negotiations.
“The bottom line is simple: We have Israel’s back come hell or high water. Israel has no better friend than the United States. Israel and the United States are sister democracies,” concluded Rice.