Obama: World must press Iran or Israel may respond

DAVENPORT, Iowa (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Monday the world must increase pressure on Iran over its nuclear program to avoid a situation where Israel feels that “its back is to the wall” and may respond.

The United States and others accuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons, using a nuclear energy program as cover. Tehran rejects the charge.

But the dispute, harsh rhetoric, and U.S. and Israeli military maneuvers in the region have fed speculation of a rising likelihood of confrontation between Iran and either the United States or Israel.

“My job as president would be to try to make sure that we are tightening the screws diplomatically on Iran, that we’ve mobilized the world community to go after Iran’s program in a serious way, to get sanctions in place so that Iran starts making a difficult calculation,” Obama said.

“We’ve got to do that before Israel feels like its back is to the wall,” said Obama, when asked at a campaign event in Iowa whether Israel felt it had a “green light” to take military action against Iran in the absence of progress bye world powers to pressure Tehran.

Concern about the potential for an Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities roiled oil markets last month, driving crude prices to new highs. Israel is believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, but has never confirmed or denied this.


“I don’t want to speculate on whether or not Israel feels like it has a green light or not because that would be speculation,” Obama said.

“What is not speculation is that we have to act much more forcefully and effectively on the world stage to contain Iran’s nuclear capabilities,” he said.

The United States and its Western allies have been pushing for a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, but negotiations have dragged on as Russia and China sought to delay and water down measures.

Obama’s comments came hours before opening night of the Democratic convention, where the party will formally nominate the Illinois senator as its presidential candidate. His opponent, Republican John McCain, has said Obama does not have the foreign policy experience to be president.

Obama, who is vying against McCain in the November 4 election, spent two nights in Israel in July as part of a weeklong tour abroad and met with several Israeli officials.

He said the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq had strengthened Iran’s hand by getting rid of an historical enemy in Saddam Hussein.

But he has expressed solidarity with the Bush administration’s calls for the world to move quickly to impose tougher sanctions on Iran.

“I will tell you having visited Israel a month and a half ago, their general attitude is we will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.

“They recognize that there are no good military options. but they also recognize that it is -- from their perspective it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

Reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Eric Walsh