United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Obama, Romney Debate Iran Policy

            On October 22, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney clashed over U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear program. During the final presidential debate, Obama claimed U.S.-led sanctions have brought Iran to its "weakest point economically, strategically, [and] militarily.” But Governor Romney asserted that the President’s policies portrayed Washington as “weak” to Tehran. He also said the last four years were “wasted,” since Tehran’s nuclear centrifuges are still spinning. The following are excerpts from the candidates’ comments on Iran.
 
President Barack Obama
 
            “As long as I'm president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. I've made that clear when I came into office. We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80 percent. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in a shambles.
            “And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security and it's threat to Israel's national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.
            “Iran's a state sponsor of terrorism, and for them to be able to provide nuclear technology to nonstate actors -- that's unacceptable. And they have said that they want to see Israel wiped off the map.
            “So the work that we've done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice. They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we're not going to take any options off the table…
            “Our goal is to get Iran to recognize it needs to give up its nuclear program and abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place, because they have the opportunity to re-enter the community of nations, and we would welcome that. There are people in Iran who have the same aspirations as people all around the world, for a better life. And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision. But the deal we'll accept is, they end their nuclear program. It's very straightforward…
            “The clock is ticking. We're not going to allow Iran to perpetually engage in negotiations that lead nowhere. And I've been very clear to them, you know, because of the intelligence coordination that we do with a range of countries, including Israel, we have a sense of when they would get breakout capacity, which means that we would not be able to intervene in time to stop their nuclear program, and that clock is ticking.
            “And we're going to make sure that if they do not meet the demands of the international community, then we are going to take all options necessary to make sure they don't have a nuclear weapon.
            The strength that we have shown in Iran is shown by the fact that we've been able to mobilize the world. When I came into office, the world was divided. Iran was resurgent. Iran is at its weakest point economically, strategically, [and] militarily.”
 
Governor Mitt Romney
 
            “Iran is the greatest national security threat we face…It's also essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means…
            “Crippling sanctions were number one. And they do work. You're seeing it right now in the economy. It's absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions…Number two, something I would add today is I would tighten those sanctions. I would say that ships that carry Iranian oil can't come into our ports. I imagine the EU would agree with us as well…
            “I'd take on diplomatic isolation efforts. I'd make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it. I would also make sure that their diplomats are treated like the pariah they are around the world, the same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa…
            “When there were dissidents in the streets of Tehran, the Green Revolution, holding signs saying, is America with us, the president was silent. I think they noticed that as well. And I think that when the president said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel that they noticed that as well.
            “All of these things suggested, I think, to the Iranian mullahs that, hey, you know, we can keep on pushing along here; we can keep talks going on, but we're just going to keep on spinning centrifuges. Now there are some 10,000 centrifuges spinning uranium, preparing to create a nuclear threat to the United States and to the world.
            “That's unacceptable for us, and it's essential for a president to show strength from the very beginning to make it very clear what is acceptable and not acceptable. And an Iranian nuclear program is not acceptable to us. They must not develop nuclear capability.
            “And the way to make sure they understand that is by having from the very beginning the tightest sanctions possible. They need to be tightened. Our diplomatic isolation needs to be tougher. We need to indict Ahmadinejad. We need to put the pressure on them as hard as we possibly can, because if we do that, we won't have to take the military action.”
 
Click here to watch a portion of the debate on Iran.
 
Click here for a full transcript of the debate.
 

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