I am prepared to live with a nuclear Iran, but, to contain it, I need the cooperation of the Arab rulers. As you know, cooperation in this part of the world sways with street tantrums and news broadcasts — this is the reality on the ground. We lost the war of ideas to Al Jazeera rhetoric, and we must pursue an appearance of an ongoing peace process.
"I said 'appearance' because I am not naive, and I know that the Arabs are not prepared to accept the idea of a permanent Israel; perhaps they never will -- it goes against everything they have been taught.
Still, I now need their support and your cooperation.
"You see, the only thing that will tame anti-American sentiments in this part of the world, at least partially, is the prospect that American pressure will bring about a Palestinian state and the delusion that such a state will become a sheltered launching pad for a renewed armed struggle against Israel, for the 'liberation of all of Palestine.' I read what they are saying, and I will not let this happen, but, in the meantime, we need to act as though a peace process has a chance to succeed."
When Mr. Obama declared that resolving the long-running Middle East dispute was a "vital national security interest of the United States," he was highlighting a change that has resulted from a lengthy debate among his top officials over how best to balance support forIsrael against other American interests.
This shift, described by administration officials who did not want to be quoted by name when discussing internal discussions, is driving the White House's urgency to help broker a Middle East peace deal. It increases the likelihood that Mr. Obama, frustrated by the inability of the Israelis and the Palestinians
to come to terms, will offer his own proposed parameters for an eventual Palestinian state.
Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up "costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure" -- drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Mr. Obama's words reverberated through diplomatic circles in large part because they echoed those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the military commander overseeing America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent Congressional testimony, the general said that the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States. He has denied reports that he was suggesting that soldiers were being put in harm's way by American support for Israel.
But the impasse in negotiations "does create an environment," he said Tuesday in a speech in Washington. "It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate."