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Edwards: 'Iran must know world won't back down'
Ron Brynaert
Published: Tuesday January 23, 2007
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(Update below: Over one week later, in an interview, Edwards said that he thought attacking Iran "would have very bad consequences")

In a speech at a conference in Herzliya, Israel, former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) took aim at Iran, warning that the "world won't back down." The 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, who recently launched a new presidential campaign, also said that Israel should be allowed to join NATO.

Although Edwards has criticized the war in Iraq, and has urged bringing the troops home, the former senator firmly declared that "all options must remain on the table," in regards to dealing with Iran, whose nuclear ambition "threatens the security of Israel and the entire world."

"Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons," Edwards said. "For years, the US hasnít done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran. As my country stayed on the sidelines, these problems got worse."

Edwards continued, "To a large extent, the US abdicated its responsibility to the Europeans. This was a mistake. The Iranian presidentís statements such as his description of the Holocaust as a myth and his goals to wipe Israel off the map indicate that Iran is serious about its threats."

"Once Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the Middle East will go nuclear, making Israelís neighborhood much more volatile," Edwards said.

Edwards added, "Iran must know that the world wonít back down. The recent UN resolution ordering Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium was not enough. We need meaningful political and economic sanctions. We have muddled along for far too long. To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate Ė ALL options must remain on the table."

Full transcript of Edwards' Herzliya speech

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Senator John Edwards:

Itís a great privilege for me to be able to participate in this conference which has played an important role in bringing people together from all walks of life. The Herzliya Conference is a great forum for what is happening in Israel.

I am aware that it was at this conference that PM Ariel Sharon gave his courageous speech outlining his disengagement. He helped Israel face some of its major challenges.

Throughout his career and public service Sharon has shown courage, including his historic decision to evacuate Gaza. More than anyone else, Sharon has, in my judgment, believed that a strong Israel is a safe Israel and that Israel needs to defend itself against security threats.

We also need to remember the three soldiers and their families for whom it is well past time for their return home. They are a symbol of the extraordinary challenges facing Israel and Middle East. One source of strength is the bond between Israel and the United States, which is a bond that will never be broken. For more than half a century both countries have benefited from this alliance. We share common values such as freedom and democracy. I was in Israel in 2001 and Iíll never forget just as I was ending my visit, a Hamas suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt blew up the Sbarro pizzeria. It made an impact on me to see the extraordinary sacrifice made by the Israeli people everyday. They continue to make sacrifices to ensure your security and achieve peace. I saw firsthand the threats you face every day. I feel that I understand on a very personal level those threats. The challenges in your own backyard Ė rise of Islamic radicalism, use of terrorism, and the spread of nuclear technology and weapons of mass destruction Ė represent an unprecedented threat to the world and Israel.

At the top of these threats is Iran. Iran threatens the security of Israel and the entire world. Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. For years, the US hasnít done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran. As my country stayed on the sidelines, these problems got worse. To a large extent, the US abdicated its responsibility to the Europeans. This was a mistake. The Iranian presidentís statements such as his description of the Holocaust as a myth and his goals to wipe Israel off the map indicate that Iran is serious about its threats.

Once Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the Middle East will go nuclear, making Israelís neighborhood much more volatile.

Iran must know that the world wonít back down. The recent UN resolution ordering Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium was not enough. We need meaningful political and economic sanctions. We have muddled along for far too long. To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate Ė ALL options must remain on the table.

The war in Lebanon had Iranian fingerprints all over it. I was in Israel in June, and I took a helicopter trip over the Lebanese border. I saw the Hezbollah rockets, and the havoc wreaked by the extremism on Israelís border. Hezbollah is an instrument of the Iranian government, and Iranian rockets allowed Hezbollah to attack and wage war against Israel.

I cannot talk about the war last summer without referring to the Syrian role in destabilizing area. Syria needs to be held accountable. Syria has recently called for peace talks with Israel. Talk is cheap. Syria needs to go long way to prove it is ready for peace. It can start by not harboring terrorists and ending its nefarious relationship with Iran.

While Iran is the greatest threat now, but just as alarming is the one on your doorstep. Hamas, with Iranian support, doesnít make any mistake of its intentions to wipe out Israel, and repeatedly makes calls to raise the banner of Allah over all of Israel. Israel made many concessions. Many settlers gave up there land in order to advance peace.

Israel can take more steps to advance peace like bolstering Abbas against Hamas. While Israel is willing to go back to negotiating table, little has been seen on the Palestinian side. We instead have seen chaos and violence on the street, and no revocation of violence against Israel.

Outside assistance to Palestinian governance is not an entitlement. The US and Europe need to ensure that money going to the Palestinians does not go to lining the pockets of terrorists. For peace, Israel needs a partner.

Absent this partnership, Israel not only has the right to defend itself, it has an obligation to defend itself. This means continuing to ensure Israelís military strength, diplomatically and economically. The hurdles are clear.

For too long, the current US administrationís commitment to this issue has been halfhearted. Now, on the backdrop of Iraq, they have tried to bring the two sides together. This is especially significant since they have squandered Americaís moral authority in the Middle East and around the world.

We should be finding ways to upgrade Israelís relationship with NATO. This could even some day mean membership. NATOís mission now goes far beyond just Europe. Therefore, it is only natural that NATO seeks to include Israel.

Your challenges are our challenges. Your future is our future. The US will continue to stand by you. God bless you.

Question and Answer:

Cheryl Fishbein from NY: When you do learning of Jewish texts, you give credit to ideas of scholars who have helped you ask questions, I would like to give credit to my friends and colleagues who have had this same overriding question of shared a existential threat: Would you be prepared, if diplomacy failed, to take further action against Iran? I think there is cynicism about the ability of diplomacy to work in this situation. Secondly, you as grassroots person, who has an understanding of the American people, is there understanding of this threat across US?

A: My analysis of Iran is if you start with the President of Iran coming to the UN in New York denouncing America and his extraordinary and nasty statements about the Holocaust and goal of wiping Israel off map, married with his attempts to obtain nuclear weapons over a long period of time, they are buying time. They are the foremost state sponsors of terrorism. If they have nuclear weapons, other states in the area will want them, and this is unacceptable.

As to what to do, we should not take anything off the table. More serious sanctions need to be undertaken, which cannot happen unless Russia and China are seriously on board, which has not happened up until now. I would not want to say in advance what we would do, and what I would do as president, but there are other steps that need to be taken. Fore example, we need to support direct engagement with Iranians, we need to be tough. But I think it is a mistake strategically to avoid engagement with Iran.

As to the American people, this is a difficult question. The vast majority of people are concerned about what is going on in Iraq. This will make the American people reticent toward going for Iran. But I think the American people are smart if they are told the truth, and if they trust their president. So Americans can be educated to come along with what needs to be done with Iran.

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Edwards: 'Very bad consequences'

On February 2, Ezra Klein interviewed Edwards in Washington DC, for the American Prospect. Edwards explained that he wasn't really advocating a military strike on Iran and that he thought an attack "would have very bad consequences."

Edwards added that he thought the Bush Administration was wrong for not "negotiating directly" with Iran, stressing a need for diplomacy. He suggested that an "economic package" should be offered to Iran as a carrot to ward off "serious economic sanctions" representing the "stick."

However, Edwards made it clear that he thought no American president should ever limit their options, military or otherwise. In some ways, Edwards' words echo statements made by former President Bill Clinton backing the 2002 congressional resolution which gave Bush the authority to invade Iraq, a power Clinton thought a president should have even if he wasn't certain that war was the correct choice at the time.

"So, I just want to get it very clear, you think that attacking Iran would be a bad idea?" Klein asked Edwards.

"I think would have very bad consequences," Edwards responded.

Klein asked, "So when you said that all options are on the table?"

"It would be foolish for any American president to ever take any option off the table," said Edwards.