Barack Obama: “I’m Not Going to Comment” on Israel’s Nukes

by James M. Wall

During the closing press conference at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington Tuesday, The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson, asked President Obama:

“Will you call on Israel to declare its nuclear program and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty?”

The President dodged the question:

“I’m not going to comment on their program, but what I’m going to point to is the fact that consistently we have urged all countries to become members of the NPT.”

The kindest thing to be said about that response is that it shows our president has chutzpah. It also demonstrated that his determination to be firm with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is just so much sound and fury, signifying nothing

Netanyahu had put out the word that he would not attend the Summit because he had heard that Egypt and Turkey would ask him about Israel’s nuclear arms program, generally believed to be the sixth largest stockpile of nukes in the world.

Both Scott Wilson’s question and the President’s response, were reported fully in the Jerusalem Post. Both question and answer received almost no attentionin the US media. Here is Wilson’s question:

You have spoken often about bringing US policy in line with its treaty obligations internationally to eliminate the perceptions of hypocrisy that some of the world sees toward the US and its allies.

In that spirit and in that venue, will you call on Israel to declare its nuclear program and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and if not why wouldn’t other countries see that as an incentive not to sign on to a treaty that you say is important to strengthen?

Summit participants Egypt and Turkey did not raise the “hypocrisy”question.

Scott Wilson did it for them.

Here is the full text of the President’s cautious non-answer:

Initially we’re talking about US behavior, and then, suddenly we’re talking about Israel. Let me talk about the United States. I do think that as part of the NPT, our obligation as the largest nuclear power in the world is to take steps to reducing our nuclear stockpile.

And that’s what the START treaty was about, sending a message that we are going to meet our obligations.

And, as far as Israel goes, I’m not going to comment on their program, but what I’m going to point to is the fact that consistently we have urged all countries to become members of the NPT.

So there’s no contradiction there. We think it is important that we have an international approach that is universal and that rests on three pillars, that those of us who have nuclear weapons are making serious efforts to reduce those stockpiles.

Scott Wilson’s own newspaper, The Washington Post, buried Wilson’s exchange with the president deep inside its longer story on the slow pace of peace negotiations.

In its coverage, The New York Times reports that Obama issued a specific warning to Iran, which had not been invited to the conference.

After four years of failed efforts on sanctions, the penalties he was trying to win at the United Nations Security Council had to be significant enough to get the attention of the Iranian leadership.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Obama said he had insisted to President Hu Jintao of China that in dealing with Iran: “Words have to mean something. There have to be some consequences.”

Words, both spoken and unspoken, do have consequences. Does President Obama neither see nor hear how empty his declaration sounds to the people of the world who had looked to him to break Israel’s dictatorial grip on the region?

The picture above is by Doug Mills for The New York Times.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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5 Responses to Barack Obama: “I’m Not Going to Comment” on Israel’s Nukes

  1. On April 5, 2009, President Obama stood on the world stage in Prague and admitted, “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act…When we fail to pursue peace, then it stays forever beyond our grasp. We know the path when we choose fear over hope. To denounce or shrug off a call for cooperation is an easy but also cowardly thing to do. That’s how wars begin. That’s where human progress ends…the voices of peace and progress must be raised together…Human destiny will be what we make of it…Words must mean something.”

    On April 14, 2010, Mordechai Vanunu, the whistle blower of Israel’s WMD program wrote:

    “The restrictions, not to leave the country for one more year renewed…”

  2. Bill Gepford says:

    Thank you Eileen. You said it all. As a young lad I learned that words had meaning. And if I didn’t take them seriously there were consequences. As I grew older I learned that meanings can be nuanced in many ways. In the present political context I have learned that there are very few people that you can believe, and that doublespeak is the standard for political success.
    And thank you Jim for your courage and boldness!

  3. Patricia Pynchon says:

    Evidently the U.S. feels that it cannot assert its power over Israel, despite the three billion of its taxpayer’s money it gives yearly, (without consulting the taxpayers). Just why it permits Israel to act with no constraints is a mystery. I personally feel that we should not give Israel more money or arms, and that we should require Israel to abide by the rules of human decency if we do give them any more money. We must not punish Iran’s nuclear program when we have given Israel nuclear bombs, and do not require then to sign the npl.

  4. “Just why it permits Israel to act with no constraints is a mystery.”

    On June 8, 2007, at the 27th annual American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Washington, D.C. Conference, Congressman Paul Findley illuminated some of that mystery:

    “I was here for the first convention 27 years ago and I still have a fire in my belly for the civil and human rights of Arabs. It is time to speak openly and honestly about Israel. But, in American politics, that is still forbidden.

    “Pity that we cannot seem to shed our fear of Israel. We are afraid to speak out on Capitol Hill, for fear of losing the next election. They are more like trained poodles jumping through hoops than leaders!

    “Why this fear? How did we get here?

    “Forty years ago to this day, June 8, 1967 the change occurred, the floodgates opened and money poured into Israel as never before. When President Johnson heard about the U.S.S. Liberty being attacked by Israel he ordered the rescue fighter planes to return to the deck. The rescue mission was aborted and the survivors have said they heard LBJ’s voice tell Admiral Giess, ‘Get those planes back on deck. I don’t care if the ship sinks, I will not embarrass Israel.’

    “LBJ also threatened to court martial anyone who reported what had happened. Johnson accepted Israel’s false claim of “mistaken identity” and he knew it was a lie. That is when the change began and Israel learned they could get away with murdering US soldiers.”

  5. Harris Fawell says:

    Jim: I can’t understand why Obama is so fearful of taking common sense actions when it comes to Isreal. I still believe he will act appropriately. Perhaps I am wrong. I hope not. Harris Fawell

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