President Barack Obama's Responses to AJC Questionnaire


1. As the Iranian regime continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability – defying a growing international consensus, threatening Israel and other U.S. allies, and in violation of its treaty obligations – what specific steps would you take to avert the peril of a nuclear Iran? As the U.S. and its international partners act to isolate Iran, how do you suggest dealing with governments that have resisted efforts to exert economic pressure on the Iranian regime? What position should the United States take if Iran develops its nuclear capability to the point that diplomacy and sanctions cannot be expected to restrain its development and deployment of weapons that would jeopardize U.S. interests and global security?

When I came into office, Iran’s leadership was united and on the rise in the region, while the international community was divided about how to confront Tehran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.Today, because of concrete steps that I and my Administration have taken, Iran is under greater pressure and more isolated than ever.We have led the international community in putting in place the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions in history on Iran.We secured the support of Russia and China for these sanctions, making them even more effective and biting, and have since built a broad international coalition that has targeted the Iranian banking, petroleum, and petro-chemical sectors.Our diplomacy has succeeded in getting every major importer of Iranian oil to significantly reduce their purchases – including a total European Union oil embargo; however, we consistently review our sanctions, and will not hesitate to impose consequences on those actors who do not comply with our sanctions regime.

I’ve been absolutely clear that containment is not my policy, and that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.I am prepared to use all elements of American power to do so, including a political effort to further isolate Iran, a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition, an economic effort that has imposed crippling sanctions, and a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

I believe we have a responsibility to use the time and space that exists now – when both we and the Israelis judge the Iranians do not yet have a nuclear weapon – to try to get a diplomatic solution to this situation.Indeed, history shows that diplomacy is the surest way to permanently change a nation’s calculus with respect to pursuing nuclear weapons.But even as seek a diplomatic solution, we will continue to heighten the pressure on the Iranian government with every available tool.While it is true that, as president, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war, I have also made clear time and again that I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

It’s in both our and Israel’s national security interests to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.Together, along with our global partners, we will continue to apply maximum pressure to achieve that end.

Israel and the Middle East

2. How would you characterize the U.S.-Israel relationship, and what role should that alliance play in U.S. Middle East policy? How should the United States continue its commitment to maintaining Israel’s ability to deter and defend against foreseeable combinations of threats, and maintain its military edge? What role should the United States play if Israel comes under attack from Gaza and the West Bank or from the territory of one of its neighbors?

The United States and Israel share a deep and enduring friendship built on mutual interests and values – and America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable.I have a deep understanding of the grave threats that Israel faces, and I have been steadfast in supporting its right to defend itself. Israel’s security is non-negotiable.

I will do whatever it takes to ensure that Israel always has the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.That’s why my Administration has sent Israel the largest security assistance packages in its history, even in these tough budgetary times here at home.My administration is funding the Iron Dome system that stops rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah from harming innocent Israelis.Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer, and we have worked to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.And we stand united in working to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

I have also stood with Israel in the international community when others have tried to delegitimize its right to exist or to unfairly criticize its actions.I’ve often stood alone in supporting Israel, and I will continue to do so because it’s the right thing to do.When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them.When one-sided and anti-Israel resolutions are brought up at the UN Human Rights Council, we oppose them.When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it.And when the Palestinians attempted to circumvent direct negotiations with Israel and pursue statehood unilaterally at the United Nations, we rallied our partners and allies to block their efforts.

3. In 2011, the Palestinians moved unilaterally to seek UN recognition of statehood, affirming their reluctance to negotiate directly with Israel. How should the U.S. engage with the Palestinians regarding their UN initiatives for recognition, and the stalled peace process? What should U.S. policy be regarding rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah?

Last year, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly to address the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition of statehood.I believe now, as I did then, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own.However, I continue to believe that lasting peace will only come from direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians themselves and not from unilateral Palestinian actions at the United Nations.That is why I made it clear that there can be no short-cuts to peace, and called on the world to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns as a Jewish, democratic state.

We cannot impose peace or any final status details on the Israelis and Palestinians.Ultimately, it is up to the two parties to take action. Final status issues can only be resolved by the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.What we can do is state frankly what is widely known: that a lasting peace will involve two sovereign, independent states.And I am convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past.However, my Administration has made it clear that Israelis cannot be expected to negotiate with a partner that refuses to recognize its right to exist.That’s why it’s imperative that Hamas abides by the Quartet conditions to renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.

4. In light of recent political upheavals across the Middle East and North Africa, what changes, if any, would you advocate in U.S. aid to, and relations with, the newly constituted Arab governments? What assurances would you require with regard to fighting terrorism, promoting democracy and human rights, protecting minorities, assuring equal treatment of women, curbing weapons proliferation, ending anti-Israel incitement, and advancing regional peace?

The popular movements that have reshaped the Arab world in the past year speak to some of America’s most deeply held values. In the Middle East and North Africa, the changes we are witnessing have been building for years. They are the expressions of a universal longing for self-representation, because all people should get to pick their leaders and have a say in the laws that govern their lives.

It will be many years before the story of the Arab Spring is complete. There are going to be huge challenges that come with change.But I believe that the United States will benefit from having partners in the region who complete their transitions to democracy – because ultimately democracies have proven to be our best friends in the world. Whenever people are reaching for the same democracy and basic human rights that the United States stands for, that is a good thing. That’s why my Administration has supported those aspirations, and opposed the use of violence against the people of the region.

As we support these democratic transitions, I have made it clear that I will stand up for America’s core interests in the region – including the security of Israel, countering terrorism, and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. And we will be steadfast in calling on the nations of the region to meet their international obligations as they go through these transitions. For example, we continue to provide assistance to Egypt because it’s in our interest to help them advance regional security. And we’ve made it clear that they must uphold their peace treaty with Israel and continue transitioning to democracy.

Ultimately, the people of the region themselves will determine the outcome of these upheavals.In some places, change will come faster than others, and progress will often come in fits and starts.But we are committed to helping these nations consolidate their democratic gains and working to further integrate them into the global economy.

Human Rights

5. More than sixty years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism continues to be a major element in political discourse and manifest itself in criminal acts in parts of Europe, Latin America and elsewhere. In Arab states, religious pluralism and tolerance of minority faiths are frequently under challenge – and anti-Zionism all too often is revealed as hatred of Jews. What role do you think the U.S. can and should play in fighting anti-Semitism across the globe, and in combating racism and religious persecution more generally? What sanctions and other measures should be employed by the U.S. in response to systematic and egregious human rights violations by foreign nations?

“Never again” is a challenge to reject hatred in all of its forms – including anti-Semitism, which has no place in a civilized world.It is a challenge to defend the fundamental right of free people and free nations to exist in peace and security – and that includes the State of Israel.I’ll never forget what I saw at Buchenwald, where so many perished with the words of Sh’ma Yisrael on their lips.I’ve stood with survivors in the old Warsaw ghettos, and I’ve walked those sacred grounds at Yad Vashem.The Holocaust cannot be denied, and it cannot be forgotten.

The United States must always be on the front lines in standing against anti-Semitism.When children are taught anti-Semitism, we will speak out against it.When efforts are made to equate Zionism with racism, we reject them.When international bodies single out Israel with unfair resolutions, we vote against them.When attempts are made to delegitimize Israel, we oppose them.When faced today with a regime in Tehran that denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map, we make it clear we will do whatever is necessary to make sure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon, putting our security and the security of our allies at risk.

Last year, I issued a presidential directive making it clear that preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.That does not mean that we intervene militarily every time there’s an injustice in the world.We cannot and should not.But it does mean that we possess many tools – diplomatic and political, economic and financial, intelligence, military, and law enforcement, and, of course, our moral persuasion.Using these tools, we have stood up for the basic rights of people in places like Libya, Sudan, Cote D’Ivoire, Kyrgyzstan, and Uganda.And we will continue to do so, because it’s what we as Americans understand is the right thing to do.


6. Considering the successes and failures in the years since 9/11, how would you change U.S. policy to effectively combat the threat of global and domestic terrorism? Specifically, how would you respond to the threat of Islamist extremism without violating civil liberties, and without alienating moderate Muslims in the U.S. and across the globe?

My highest priority as Commander-in-Chief is to protect the American people from the threats we face.That’s why, upon taking office, I re-focused our efforts on taking the fight to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to decimating the group that attacked us on 9/11.America is safer today because Osama bin Laden and more than two-thirds of the top leaders of core al-Qaeda have been taken off the battlefield.But we will remain vigilant, because we know the threat of terrorism has not been erased completely.

At the same time we aggressively pursue those who wish to do us harm, I have made it clear that the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.We reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And al-Qaeda has killed people of many faiths – but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Going forward, we know that our best offense will not involve deploying large ground forces abroad but delivering targeted pressure to those who threaten our security.

But military power alone won’t solve the problem of violent extremism.America’s national security is also strengthened when we address the political, economic, and social conditions that can be exploited by terrorist groups.America will continue to support the structural conditions that reduce terrorist recruitment and promote peace, opportunity, and respect for universal rights throughout the world.

Finally, I reject the false distinction between liberty and security.I am committed to upholding the rule of law here at home, including defending the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of the American people.And that’s why, in my first week in office, I banned torture and closed CIA secret prisons overseas.I firmly believe that we don’t have to choose between living our values and protecting our nation.


7. As some of the world’s largest oil exporters display hostility to American interests, as oil prices rise, and as many scientists continue to warn about climate change, the need for a solution to our nation’s energy crisis becomes more pressing by the day. How would you address our dependence on foreign oil? What are viable, long-term solutions? What role should alternative energy and efficiency solutions play in this plan? What about exploration and development of domestic sources of energy, and importation of those resources from friendly neighbors?

While there are no silver bullets to the problem of high oil and gas prices, my administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy is helping to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, helping families save at the pump and creating an economy that’s built to last by out-innovating our competitors around the world. We can’t just drill our way to lower energy prices and we won’t solve this problem overnight. That’s why I’m focused on an all-of-the-above energy strategy to developing all of America’s natural resources – including domestic oil, gas, wind, solar, clean coal, and biofuels – and encouraging efficiency so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil over time.

In my convention speech, I laid out a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs and more opportunities for middle-class Americans, while rebuilding the economy on a stronger foundation. Two of the energy goals that I announced were to cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone. Oil and gas development has increased every year of my administration and our dependence on foreign oil is now at a 20-year low. We’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration in the last three years, and we’ll open more. We are speeding up the leasing process and improving safety measures to prevent future spills. A revolution in natural gas production helped us become the world’s leading producer of natural gas in 2009. I will continue to take every possible action to safely develop this abundant source of American energy: streamlining the oversight of natural gas permitting, improving access to natural gas fuels along heavily trafficked trucking routes, helping convert municipal bus and truck fleets to run on natural gas, and creating a new tax incentive for medium- and heavy-duty trucks that run on natural gas or other alternative fuels.

My administration has also made record gains in clean energy development. I have also proposed an ambitious clean energy standard for America to generate 80 percent of our electricity from a diverse set of clean energy sources by 2035 and we are making concrete progress.

We have tripled the government’s investment in clean energy sectors such as the smart power grid, energy efficiency, and renewable power, which has supported 224,500 jobs and spurred development across the country. After thirty years of inaction, we raised fuel standards so that by the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks will go twice as far on a gallon of gas. That will help to save families more than $8,000 per vehicle at the pump and decrease our oil consumption by an estimated 2.2 million barrels a day. We’ve doubled our use of renewable energy like wind and solar, and thousands of Americans have jobs today building wind turbines and long-lasting batteries. We are spurring the nation's transition to a smarter, stronger, more efficient and reliable electricity system. And we are supporting public-private partnerships to make homes, appliances and everyday technologies more energy efficient and less expensive to use. We are boosting our use of cleaner fuels, including increasing the level of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline and implementing a new Renewable Fuel Standard that will save nearly 14 billion gallons of oil-based gasoline in 2022.

I believe in an all-out, all-of-the-above approach to expanding domestic energy production. It takes all of our domestic resources to increase our energy security. Now voters have a choice – between a strategy that reverses this progress, or one that builds on it. Unlike my opponent, I will not let oil companies write this country’s energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers. We’re investing in a clean energy future that keep good paying jobs here at home and puts this country on a path to energy independence.


8. How would you address the presence of roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States? What changes would you support to U.S. immigration policy on the whole? What safeguards would you take to ensure that those fleeing persecution will continue to be granted safe haven within our nation’s borders? What border security and enforcement measures do you support?

Our immigration system has been broken for too long.I believe that comprehensive reform that strengthens our economy and reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.I support legislation—that until recently had bipartisan support—that would invest in border security, hold employers accountable, demand responsibility from undocumented immigrants in return for a path to legal status, and reform the legal immigration system to attract the best and brightest and keep families together.And until Congress acts, my administration is taking important steps to secure our borders and make our immigration laws more fair, efficient, and just.Today, by many measures, the Southwest border is more secure than at any time in the past 20 years.Illegal border crossing are at a 40-year low and the Border Patrol is better staffed than at any time in its 87-year history.For the first time, immigration authorities are prioritizing the deportation of criminals, rather than children who came here through no fault of their own and are pursuing an education.

Religious Freedom

9. The Constitution protects religious freedom by mandating that the government shall make no law establishing religion, or abridging the free exercise thereof. How should the government protect this fundamental liberty? Is it either constitutionally permissible or socially desirable for religious institutions to seek to impel the state to implement policies that are motivated by an understanding of scriptures? Should a president’s religious beliefs play a role in presidential decision-making? Should religious institutions – or individuals, generally – be exempted from laws of general application based on religious objections? In the context of the current controversy over inclusion of contraception in mandated health insurance coverage, how would you reconcile the need to safeguard women’s rights and women’s health with the need to protect the religious liberty of religiously affiliated hospitals?

My own Christian faith is important to me, and my first job in Chicago was working with Catholic parishes in poor neighborhoods, funded by a grant from an arm of the Catholic Church. I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could, so I understand and applaud the important of the work of faith-based organizations. I’ve set up the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to create and expand partnerships with faith-based and secular nonprofits on a range of issues, from hunger to housing to job training, and I’m proud that this Office has done just that.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans will cover recommended preventive services, including contraception, without charging a co-pay or deductible beginning in August 2012. I also know that some religious institutions have a religious objection to directly providing insurance that covers contraceptive services for their employees. That is why, from the beginning of this process, we worked with institutions like religiously affiliated hospitals and universities to find an equitable solution that protects religious liberty and ensures that women have access to the care that they need, no matter where they work. This new law will save money for millions of Americans and ensure that Americans nationwide get the high-quality care they need to stay healthy. Today, nearly 99 percent of all women have used contraception at some point in their lives, but more than half of all women between the ages of 18-34 have struggled to afford it. Under my administration’s policy, women will have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where they work.

This policy also fully respects religious liberty. It ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage. Instead, her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge. The new policy ensures that women can get contraception without paying a co-pay while also holding paramount the core constitutional principle of religious liberty.

10. Do you support federal money being allocated to religious institutions for provision of social services or to parochial schools? What restrictions, if any, would you put on these funds, whether provided by grants or vouchers? Do you support legislation to strengthen the obligation of employers to provide a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious practice?

The separation of church and state in this country is essential and has led our democracy and religious practices to thrive. Religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have the right to worship as they choose.

With respect to education, while I have the deepest respect for the life-changing work of so many parochial schools, school vouchers have been tried and studied for decades, and we know that they do not raise student achievement. I am also concerned that vouchers can drain resources that are needed in public schools where the vast majority of students will always be. For this reason I do not support vouchers.

Still, religious institutions have an important role to play in the provision of public services. I expanded the federal government’s faith-based initiative because it is important for government to partner with faith-based organizations. I have affirmed repeatedly the important role these organizations play in delivering social services. I am working closely with my cabinet and each of the thirteen agency offices for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships and my administration has made it a top priority for community groups to be an integral part of our country’s success. Through my Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, we have partnered with faith-based and non-profit organizations on many issues of critical importance: fighting hunger at home and abroad; promoting responsible fatherhood; encouraging mentoring; facilitating interfaith service; and fighting unemployment, among many other issues. All of this work is accomplished in a way that upholds the Constitution—by ensuring that both existing programs and new proposals are consistent with American laws and values.Date: 10/18/2012
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