President Obama condemned Iran for what he said was its role in an assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States, warning on Thursday that “we don’t take any options off the table” in terms of a response and calling for other nations to join him “to make sure that Iran is further and further isolated and pays a price for this kind of behavior.”
The president made his comments, his first since the plot was disclosed Tuesday, during a joint press conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the White House. The two leaders also praised the U.S.-Korean free-trade agreement approved by Congress on Wednesday, and vowed to maintain a tough stance toward North Korea. Obama also used the occasion to keep pressure on Republicans in Congress to give him key parts of his jobs bill.
It was the Iranian plot, though, that dominated the questioning, with the U.S. president brushing aside Iranian denials and standing by the accusations leveled by his government against Tehran. He said there is no doubt either of the complicity of Mansour J. Arbabsiar, the 56-year-old man in custody in New York, or of the role of Iran in the plot to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir and bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington.
“We would not be bringing forward a case unless we knew exactly how to support all of the allegations that are contained in the indictment,” said Obama, who said Arbabsiar “had direct links, was paid by and directed by individuals in the Iranian government.” Despite the official Iranian denials, the president said the facts are clear and “we believe that after people have analyzed them, there will not be a dispute that this is in fact what happened.”
Obama insisted the plot was not an aberration for the Tehran regime. “This is a not just a dangerous escalation; this is part of a pattern of dangerous and reckless behavior by the Iranian government,” he said, adding, “This is just one example of a series of steps that they've taken to create violence and to behave in a way that you don't see other countries doing.”
Obama said he will continue “to apply the toughest sanctions and continue to mobilize the international community" to ensure that Iran is held accountable. He did not get more specific, though he stressed that “we don't take any options off the table in terms of how we operate with Iran.” He added, “But what you can expect is that we will continue to apply the sorts of pressure that will have a direct impact on the Iranian government, until it makes a better choice in terms of how it's going to interact with the rest of the international community.”
He also predicted that other countries in the Middle East will adopt tougher approaches to Iran as well. “This is a pattern of behavior that, I think, increasingly the international community is going to consider out of bounds and is going to continue to punish Iran for,” Obama said. He was asked if he considered Iran guilty of an act of war. The president didn't directly answer the question, but he stressed that “there has to be accountability with respect to anybody in the Iranian government engaging in this kind of activity.”
On his jobs bill, the president continued to pressure Republicans, demanding that they give him key pieces of the legislation that failed earlier this week in the Senate. “What we're going to do is we're going to break each of these bills apart and say let's have a vote on putting teachers back in the classroom and vote on rebuilding infrastructure and making sure that we are keeping taxes low for small businesses and businesses that are willing to hire veterans, provide tax breaks for further investment that can create jobs,” he said. “And each time we're going to ask Republicans to support the bill. If they don't want to support the bill, they've got to answer not just to us but the American people as to why they wouldn't.”
Both presidents hailed the long-stalled free-trade agreement that was liberated just in time for Lee’s visit. Lee called it a “win-win” for both countries and predicted it would be ratified by his country’s national assembly “in the near future.” Obama said the legislation proves that he is willing to work with Republicans. But he did not commit himself to a meeting with Republicans on his jobs bill, saying, “We're not going to create a lot of theater that then results in them engaging in the usual political talking points but don't result in action.”
Obama said the trade deal, staunchly opposed by many in his own party, is “a win for both of our countries, for our farmers and ranchers here in the United States and will increase exports of agricultural products.” He added that it “will increase American manufacturing exports, including those produced by our small businesses. It will open Korea’s lucrative services market and I'm pleased it will help level the playing field for American automakers.” He told Lee, “I hope South Koreans will buy more Fords and Chryslers and Chevys.”
Perhaps to rebut the criticisms from his fellow Democrats, he said the pact “will boost American exports by up to $11 billion and support some 70,000 American jobs.” Obama added that it has “ground-breaking protections for labor rights, the environment, and intellectual property. So the trade is free and fair.”
Both Lee and Obama pledged continued solidarity in dealing with a hostile North Korea, which remains a threat on the peninsula and in the region. Obama said the North “continues to pose a direct threat to the security of both of our nations. On this, President Lee and I are entirely united.” He warned Pyongyang that “its provocations will be met not with rewards but with even stronger sanctions and isolation.”
Obama went on to say, “The choice is clear for North Korea -- if they continue to ignore the international obligation, it will invite more pressure and isolation. If the North abandons its quest for nuclear weapons and moves towards denuclearization, it will enjoy greater security for its people.” That, he said firmly, is “the choice that North Korea faces.”