Vice President Joe Biden has been pushing privately for a hard line on Iran, and in my exclusive “This Week” interview he hinted at a harder Administration line to come.
For now, he told me, President Obama’s offer to meet with Iran over its nuclear program remains “on the table.”
While insisting that President Obama is right not to rescind his offer to negotiate with Iran and the other “P-5” nations ( U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia ) plus Germany, Biden rejected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s attempts to condition any negotiations on more US concessions.
“The ball’s in their court,” Biden said. “If they choose to meet with the P-5 under the conditions the P-5 has laid out, it means they begin to change course. And it means that the protestors probably had some impact on the behavior of an administration that they don’t like at all.”
Biden also raised the pressure on Iran by appearing to give a green light to a future military strike against Iran.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was here this spring, he said that he had agreed to give President Obama’s engagement policy until the end of the year to bear some fruit. After that deadline passed, Israel would feel free to take on the “existential threat” posed by Iran with military force if necessary.
Three times, I asked Biden if the Obama Administration would stand in the way of an Israeli military strike. Three times, he repeated that Israel was free to do what it needed to do. “If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice.”
We sat down for our exclusive and extended conversation after Biden’s surprise two-day visit to Iraq in his new role as President Obama’s personal envoy. He said that “securing victory” is his goal, and stressed that the U.S. intends to withdraw all troops by the 2011 deadline set by the status of forces agreement with Iraq.
Here’s what else we covered:
-The vice president also hit back at his predecessor, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who told the Washington Times this week that he fears the Iraq withdrawal will “waste” U.S. sacrifices. ”You know, it’s kind of ironic. It’s their timetable we are implementing. Cheney and Bush agreed with the Iraqis before we were elected that we’d have combat troops out of the cities by June 30th,” Biden told me. “I mean, for this he can’t have it both ways. He negotiated that timetable. We have met the commitment the timetable the last administration negotiated with Iraqis. And we’re totally confident that is the right thing to do. So I find it kind of ironic that he’s criticizing his own agreement that he negotiated.”
-In the wake of the highest unemployment rate in 26 years, Biden admitted the Obama Administration “misread the economy” but said it’s premature to judge whether second government stimulus package is needed. “The truth is, we and everyone else misread the economy,” he said.” There was a misreading of just how bad an economy we inherited.”
-The vice president argued success in Afghanistan won’t be measured by any military outcome. “Ultimately, the success or failure in Iraq will not rest not on a military outcome, but on a both economic and political outcome internally, getting better governance in place and economic development in that country,” he said.