-- Vice President Joe Biden warned Tuesday that the window of opportunity for peacefully resolving the standoff over Iran's nuclear program was closing "in the near term."
Speaking in Atlanta to the Rabbinical Assembly's annual convention, Biden pointedly said Washington could not stop potential military action by Israel and predicted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be "gone" in two years.
"I'm proud of our record. I believe that no president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel's physical security than Barack Obama," Biden said in a speech that heavily focused on Iran's nuclear program. "We will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon by whatever means we need."
The United States charges that Tehran's nuclear program masks an attempt to develop the ability to build atomic weapons. The Islamic republic denies the charge, but has defied international demands to halt its uranium enrichment, which can be a key step toward building a bomb. Israel has warned it would regard a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence and has reserved the right to use military force preemptively.
On that score, Biden recalled telling Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barack, "Were I an Israeli … I would not contract out my security to anybody, even a loyal, loyal, loyal friend like the United States."
Biden went on to say:
There remains space for diplomacy. The window has not closed in terms of the ability of the Israelis, if they choose on their own, to act militarily. But diplomacy backed by serious, serious sanctions and pressure to succeed, though, as the president's clearly stated -- on that score, the window is closing in the near term. This cannot go on forever."
The vice president, who repeatedly disputed the Republican criticism that the administration has been "naïve" on Iran, also predicted that tensions between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would lead to Ahmadinejad's exit.
"They will not both be around two years from now. And on my bet, it's Ahmadinejad is gone," he said.
Biden looked ahead to Europe's embargo on oil imports from Iran, due to begin July 1, and predicted it "will have a devastating impact on the Iranian economy and force them to think even harder."
"We're not doing anything but tightening the screws," he said. "Unless Iran changes course, the pressure will keep increasing."
"And as the president has made clear, we take no option off the table as part of our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," he said.
Biden blamed George W. Bush's policies for international divisions that prevented the implementation of tough new sanctions on Iran--and argued that President Barack Obama's overtures to Tehran, quickly rebuffed, convinced the world to unite behind the current sanctions regime, the toughest yet.
"When we took office, let me remind you, there was virtually no international pressure on Iran," Biden said. "We were the problem. We were diplomatically isolated in the world, in the region, in Europe. The international pressure on Iran was stuck in neutral."
He went on to say: "By going the extra diplomatic mile, presenting Iran with a clear choice, we demonstrated to the region and to the world that Iran is the problem, not the United States. That's why China, that's why Europe, that's why the rest of the world has joined us in these sanctions."
Republicans immediately seized on Biden's "we were the problem" remarks and contended that the vice president was criticizing the country, not the previous president. The Weekly Standard put out a video clip of that section of the speech, dubbing it "Biden Blames America." The Republican National Committee distributed the same clip by mass email. A Romney spokesman, Ryan Williams, tweeted a link to the video.
Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, tweeted a message from the presumptive Republican nominee's policy director, Lanhee Chen, accusing Biden of "blaming America for progress of Iran's nuclear weapons program" and calling it a "new low."
The vice president had previously drawn fire from Republicans for suggesting that Romney would not have ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Biden acknowledged that he himself had argued against the operation.
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