Obama Draws Red Lines and Distinctions on Iran in AIPAC Speech

Despite the words of friendship, the diverging perspectives of the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government on key issues in the Middle East -- the Arab uprisings, the Palestinian issue and the Iranian nuclear program -- are profound.

The dispute on the nuclear issue is centered on red lines. Israel, like the Bush administration, considers a nuclear capability in Iran a red line. It argues that the only acceptable guarantee that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon is for Iran to have no enrichment program.

The Obama administration puts the red line not at enrichment -- which is permitted under international law -- but at nuclear weapons. This is a clearer, more enforceable red line that also has the force of international law behind it.

While expressing his sympathy and friendship with Israel, Obama did not yield his red line at AIPAC. With the backing of the U.S. military, he has stood firm behind weaponization rather than weapons capability as the red line.

He said: "I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon[emphasis added], I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say."

This is crucial because it is essentially a question of war and peace.

Critically, Obama's rejection of containment at AIPAC was in the context of containing a nuclear-armed Iran, not a nuclear capable Iran.

He said: "Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

Nowhere in the speech is he aligning himself, or even mentioning, the Israeli red line of "nuclear capability."

The president's tough words regarding his readiness to use military action is all in the context of preventing a nuclear weapon in Iran, not a nuclear capability. Strikingly, the president uses the D word -- diplomacy -- more than the M word -- military action -- in his speech (even though he primarily presents it as move that enabled greater sanctions on Iran.)

The Israeli red line is a fast track to an unnecessary and counterproductive war. This is why the U.S. military and Obama so adamantly opposes this red line -- because it ensures both war and a nuclear-armed Iran down the road.

Trita Parsi, Ph.D. is the author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran