GOLDBERG: What would your position be if Israel weren't in this picture?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It would still be a profound national-security interest of the United States to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
GOLDBERG: Why, then, is this issue so often seen as binary, always defined as Israel versus Iran?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think it has to do with a legitimate concern on the part of Israel that they are a small country in a tough neighborhood, and as a consequence, even though the U.S. and Israel very much share assessments of how quickly Iran could obtain breakout capacity, and even though there is constant consultation and intelligence coordination around that question, Israel feels more vulnerable. And I think the prime minister and the defense minister, [Ehud Barak,] feel a profound, historic obligation not to put Israel in a position where it cannot act decisively and unilaterally to protect the state of Israel. I understand those concerns, and as a consequence, I think it's not surprising that the way it gets framed, at least in this country, where the vast majority of people are profoundly sympathetic to Israel's plight and potential vulnerabilities -- that articles and stories get framed in terms of Israel's potential vulnerability.
But I want to make clear that when we travel around the world and make presentations about this issue, that's not how we frame it. We frame it as: this is something in the national-security interests of the United States and in the interests of the world community. And I assure you that Europe would not have gone forward with sanctions on Iranian oil imports -- which are very difficult for them to carry out because they get a lot of oil from Iran -- had it not been for their understanding that it is in the world's interest, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. China would not have abided by the existing sanctions coming out of the National Security Council, and other countries around the world would not have unified around those sanctions had it not been for us making the presentation about why this was important for everyone, not just one country.
GOLDBERG: Is it possible that the prime minister of Israel has over-learned the lessons of the Holocaust?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the prime minister has a profound responsibility to protect the Israeli people in a hostile neighborhood, and I am certain that the history of the Holocaust and of anti-Semitism and brutality directed against the Jewish people for more than a millennium weighs on him when he thinks about these questions.
I think it's important to recognize, though, that the prime minister is also head of a modern state that is mindful of the profound costs of any military action, and in our consultations with the Israeli government, I think they take those costs, and potential unintended consequences, very seriously.
GOLDBERG: Do you think Israel could cause damage to itself in America by preempting the Iranian nuclear program militarily?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't know how it plays in America. I think we in the United States instinctively sympathize with Israel, and I think political support for Israel is bipartisan and powerful.
In my discussions with Israel, the key question that I ask is: How does this impact their own security environment? I've said it publicly and I say it privately: ultimately, the Israeli prime minister and the defense minister and others in the government have to make their decisions about what they think is best for Israel's security, and I don't presume to tell them what is best for them.
But as Israel's closest friend and ally, and as one that has devoted the last three years to making sure that Israel has additional security capabilities, and has worked to manage a series of difficult problems and questions over the past three years, I do point out to them that we have a sanctions architecture that is far more effective than anybody anticipated, that we have a world that is about as united as you get behind the sanctions; that our assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.
In that context, our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table. That's what happened in Libya, that's what happened in South Africa. And we think that, without in any way being under an illusion about Iranian intentions, without in any way being naive about the nature of that regime, they are self-interested. They recognize that they are in a bad, bad place right now. It is possible for them to make a strategic calculation that, at minimum, pushes much further to the right whatever potential breakout capacity they may have, and that may turn out to be the best decision for Israel's security.