Barack Obama on Iran

Last Updated : Aug 01, 2012


Iran has been one of the dominant topics in Senator Obama's time in office, and in President Obama's administration. Throughout his time as a Senator and President, Obama has been consistent in his approach being to first seek talks and then pursue measures such as sanctions, and following that by not taking military options off the table. While a Senator, Barack Obama suported legislation to enact sanctions on the country, but also put forth legislation to prevent the use of force in Iran by President Bush without congressional approval.

During the 2008 Presidential election campaign, Senator Obama repeated stated that Iran was not a military threat and the US should not be afraid to talk to Iran and similar nations to bring them in line with their international obligations with respect to nuclear weapons. He also stated that Iran obtaining nuclear weapons would kick off an arms race in that region.

As President, Mr Obama's record must be divided between his public statements and covert US actions. President Obama remained neutral durign national protests against fraudulent elections in 2009. When a secret base was discovered in Qom that was enriching Uranium, President Obama arranged a meeting with Iran and the members of the UN security council and Iran agreed to allow inspectors into the facility. Eventually, the UN placed sanctions on Iran which the Obama administration supported. Months later, the administration supported sanctions against the Iranian banking system and the Iranian oil and gas system.

On the covert side, the US has engaged in both a cyber war and a physical war since President Obama came into office. The cyber war culminated in the Stuxnet program to destroy Iran's centrifuges. The physical war has seen the Iranians capture one of the US's spy drones in their country and seen dozens of scientists murdered in Iran. The US has not claimed responsibility for these actions.

Record as Senator

In September of 2007 the Senate voted on a measure to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as terorists and state that the US should take efforts to prevent in involvement of Iranian soldiers in Iran. Senator Obama cast a "No Vote" on this item. He was asked about this vote on CNN within days of missing it. He asserted that he opposed the measure as it may be used by the Bush administration to validate a war with Iran. He also noted that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons posed a threat to the US. He was directly asked if Iran was engaged in activities that were killing American soldiers and he avoided the question but noted that they were supporting militias in Iraq

Senator Obama was the main sponsor for the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007. This legislation would have authorized State and local governments to direct divestiture from, and prevent investment in, companies with investments of $20,000,000 or more in Iran's energy sector. He was also the sponser for legislation to express the sense of the Senate that the President did not have the authority to attack Iran based upon the authorization for the use of force in Iraq. He also Senator Obama was also a co-sponsor for the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, which would impose sanctions on Iran and on other countries for assisting Iran in developing a nuclear program.

2008 Presidential Election

In March of 2007, Senator Obama spoke at a the AIPAC Policy Forum and discussed Iran. That speech outlined five items concerning Iran. The first was that the US war in Iraq had strengthened Iran's position. The second was that Iran was a threat to the world with its language concerning their desire to wipe Israel off the map. Third, Senator Obama stated that no option, including military action, should be taken off the table in preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. However, he asserted hat sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. A fourth point was the need to pursue tough diplomatic actions at the UN with Iran. The fifth was economic sanctions against Iran.

In November of 2007, Senator Obama appeared on Meet the Press and discussed Iran and Iraq. He stated he differed from Senator Clinton in that he did not view Iraq as a means to control Iran. He also reasserted his views that he would meet with Iran without preconditions, but that no options would be off the table.

In congruence with a piece of legislation that he sponsored earlier in that year, Senator Obama was interviewed by the Boston Globe in December of 2007 and asserted that the President did not have the authority to carry out a first strike against Iran. However, he did state that the President had the authority to carry out military actions in response to actions by Iran and in defense of US interests.

In other interviews throughout the 2008 election process, Senator Obama repeatedly asserted that he would talk to Iran without preconditions. He argued that strong nations talk to their enemies, and not just their friends. He also noted that refusing to talk with North Korea only resulted in them pursuing nuclear weapons to an even greater extent. He also asserted that a nuclear Iran was not acceptable.

Cairo Address

In June of 2009, after assuming office, President Obama went on a tour of Europe and Asia. At a speech in Cairo, President Obama sated that no single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. He asserted his desire to see a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons and any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

A few days later, President Obama met with French President Sarkozy and noted that a nuclear Iran was dangerous in that it would cause an arms race in that region of the world.

Response to Iranian Uprising

In 2009, the Iranian population began to demonstrate in opposition to what they viewed as fraudulent elections to re-elect President Achmadenijad. Many people in the US urged President Obama to support the protests there in the hopes of starting a rebellion to overthrow the regime. In the end, the US took no action. When asked about this, President Obama stated that he did not want the Iranian regime to use US involvement as an excuse for the uprising or an excuse to clamp down on the protestors.

Iran's International Committments

In September of 2009, President Obama spoke at the UN outliining his plans to address nuclear weapons diarmament. In that speech, he stated that if Iran and North Korea did not live up to international standards with nuclear proliferation, then there must be consequences.

The Qom Facility and Talks

In September of 2009, the Obama administration revealed that there was a covert nuclear processing facility that it had uncovered in Qom, Iran. The US largely arranged and participated in talks with Iran and the members of the UN Security Council just a few weeks later in Geneva. In those talks, Iran agreed to let in IAEA inspectors to look at the facility. President Obama announced the results of the talks and stated that Iran must meet its international obligations.

UN Sanctions

In June of 2010, the UN placed sanctions on Iran addressing its nuclear program and the Iranian Republican Guard which controls the nuclear program. President Obama was very supportive of the sanctions. He noted that these sanctions were the punishments that the Iranian government must face after refuting its obligations to the international community as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement.

US Sanctions on Gas

On November 21, 2011 President Obama issued an executive order putting in place new economic sanctions against the government of Iran. The sanctions put limits on the amount of business that could be conducted with the government of Iran and prescribed penalties for those who broke the sanctions. It also stated that those who violated sanctions would not be made aware that their accounts were being frozen until after the action takes placed to prevent transferring funds out of accounts to be seized. In the order, President Obama stated that Iran threatened the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States

US Banking Sanctions on Iran

In December of 2011, the US placed sanctions on Iran's banking system within the 2012 NDAA. Those sanctions froze the assets of Iranian banks. President Obama was supportive of these measures.


Upon coming into office, President Obama began to expand on a program of covert software attacks aimed at Iranian nuclear facilities. Those programs were successful at halting the enrichment of Uranian at Iranian facilities by breaking the centrifuges at the enrichment facilities.


There have been a large number of assassinations of Iranian scientists in recent years. The US has not declared responsibility for these attacks and Iran has not admitted to most of them. However, many have stated that this represents a covert war in play against Iran's nuclear program.

Note: an information not on this page can be found in the issues page for Iran. This is partly for logistical reasons to prevent this page from being too large and partly because President Obama's views and actions on Iran represent US actions. Information on this page includes that relating to sanctions and the assassinations.


AIPAC Policy Forum

In March of 2007, Senator Obama spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Forum. In that speech, he spoke about the Iranian regime and it's threat to Israel.


The Iranian National Guard

Senator Obama missed a vote which attempted to list the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist force. He was asked on CNN how he would have voted on that bill and stated that he would have voted against that measure because of the language. He states that it could have been used as a blank check, which President Bush had cashed in the past. 

When asked if he agreed with the Bush administration that Iranians were involved in killing Americans in Iraq, he stated that Iran had been a beneficiary of the war in Iraq and that there were indeed supplying militias in Iraq. He states that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is a threat to the US.


Meet the Press

In November of 2007, Senator Obama appeared on Meet the Press and was interviewed about the topic of Iran at great length. When asked about a September 2007 vote to designate the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist group, Senator Obama stated that his view on Iraq differed from Senator Clinton's in that he did not view Iraq as a means to control Iran. He stated that he would meet directly with Iran and Senator Clinton would not.

President Obama was also asked about a previous statement to meet with leaders of countries such as Cuba, Iran, and North Korea without preconditions. He stated that he would do so, but that meeting without preconditions was not the same as meeting without preparation.


Boston Globe Interview

In December of 2007, Senator Obama was interviewed by the Boston Globe and stated that the President did not have the authority to invade Iran because it did not represent an imminent threat to the US.


Google Interview

In a google interview in December of 2007, Senator Obama stated that Iran's nuclear program was indeed a threat as it may lead to an arms race in that area in the world. He stated that the best thing for America is to be "more liked" throughout the world, and that this would give us more clout throughout the world. He stated that being more liked would give us greater credibility if we attempted to avoid genocide in Sudan and other countries would not see us as invading a muslim nation.


Indianapolis Star Interview

In April of 2008, Senator Obama was interviewed by the Indianapolis Star and asked about Iran. Senator Obama noted that Hamas and other entities were not states, but rather terrorist organizations. He stated that he would meet directly with the leaders of states like Syria and Iran without preconditions.


Meet with Iran Without Preconditions

During the 2008 Presidential debates, Senator Obama stated that he would meet with any country without any preconditions. Senator Obama stated that Presdient Achmadenijad may not be the most powerful person in Iran and may not be the person to meet with. He stated that there was a difference between preparation and preconditions. He stated that Iran was a rogue regime and communication may not work.


Strong Countries Talk to Their Adversaries

At a campaign event during the 2008 Presidential election, Senator Obama stated that "Strong countries and strong leaders talk to their adversaries." He stated that this was what Reagan did with Russia and Nixon did with Mao. He stated that countries the size of Iran do not pose a serious threat to the United States.


Tough Diplomacy the Best Route

In a June 3, 2009 interview with the BBC, President Obama stated that Iran must abandon it's nuclear ambitions and that tough diplomacy may be the best route to bring about that change.


Cairo Address

On June 4, 2009 President Obama gave an address in Cairo where he proposed to allow peaceful nuclear energy development in any nation, including Iran, if they complied with their responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).


Iran with Nuclear Weapons is Dangerous

On June 6, 2009 President Obama met with President Sarkozy of France and in a joint press conference, called on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons. He stated that a nuclear Iran was dangerous because their acquisition of nuclear weapons would cause the surrounding area to join a rush for nuclear weapons.


CBS News Interview

On June 19, 2009 President Obama was interviewed by CBS (video) and stated that the protests were not a reaction to the west. In response to criticism that he had not been vocal enough in support of the Iranian people, he stated that he did not want the Iranian government to use the idea of American interference as a scapegoat for the use of violence.


Condemnation of Iranian Clampdown

Days later, President Obama gave an address in response to video showing what appeared to be Iranians being killed in the protests and accusations of CIA involvement. He called Iran's action appalling and stated that accusations that the US was involved were untrue and that these allegations only reinforced his belief that the US should remain uninvolved to avoid being used as a scapegoat.


UN Address

On September 23, 2009 President Obama spoke at the UN and stated that it had not met it's obligations as a member of the international community. He stated that Iran must confirm to the world that their nuclear intentions were peaceful.


Secret Facility at Qom

On September 25, 2009 President Obama stated at a conference in Pittsburgh that the Iranians were building a secret nuclear weapons facility at Qom, a facility that Iran had recently admitted existed. He stated that Iran was in violation of laws that all nations must abide by.


Meetings with Iran

On late September and into October of 2009, Iran met with the Germany and the UN countries that have seats on the security council for the UN. After those talks President Obama gave a press conference in which he stated that Iran had 2 weeks to comply with UN regulations and allow inspectors into the newly disclosed facility.


Response to Election Protests

In response to what they believed to be a fraudulent election, the Iranian people began to protest. When the Iranian government began to clamp down on those protesters with violence, President Obama condemned the actions on December 28, 2009 and called on Iran to abide by rules for treating it's citizens humanely, and stated that the violence would not stop the desire for democracy.


Response to UN Resolution

On June 9, 2010, President Obama reacted to a UN vote to sanction Iran for it's unwillingness to prove it's nuclear power program was peaceful. He stated that Iran had ignored UN requests, and failed to meet commitments as a member of the IAEA.


Iran Sanctions Act

In July of 2010, President Obama signed the Iran Sanctions Act. He stated that for years, Iran had supported terrorist activities and failed to achieve it's international duties to allow the UN to ensure that it's nuclear program was for peaceful purposes.

Voting Record

Designating Revolutionary Guard as Terrorists

In September of 2007, the Senate voted on a resolution that expressed the sense of the Senate on six items. These items were that:

  • that the manner in which the United States transitions and structures its military presence in Iraq will have critical long-term consequences for the future of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East
  • that it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from turning Shi'a militia extremists in Iraq into a Hezbollah-like force that could serve its interests inside Iraq
  • that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran
  • to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies
  • that the United States should designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and place the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, as established under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and initiated under Executive Order 13224
  • that the Department of the Treasury should act with all possible expediency to complete the listing of those entities targeted under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747 adopted unanimously on December 23, 2006 and March 24, 2007, respectively.

Critics of the measure called it saber rattling even though it passed by a wide margin. Barack Obama cast a "No Vote"


Sponsored and Cosponsored Legislation

Session-110; Bill Number-S 970; Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 - Cosponsor

A bill to impose sanctions on Iran and on other countries for assisting Iran in developing a nuclear program, and for other purposes.

Session-110; Bill Number-S 1430; Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007 - Prime Sponsor

A bill to authorize State and local governments to direct divestiture from, and prevent investment in, companies with investments of $20,000,000 or more in Iran's energy sector, and for other purposes.

Session-110; Bill Number-S J Res 23; Iran and a First Strike - Prime Sponsor

A joint resolution clarifying that the use of force against Iran is not authorized by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq, any resolution previously adopted, or any other provision of law.


[1] Website: Article: Barack Obama on Israel, Iran and Iraq Author: NA Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[2] Website: The New York Times Article: Obama Envisions New Iran Approach Author: MICHAEL R. GORDON and JEFF ZELENY Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[3] Website: Boston Globe Article: Barack Obama's Q&A Author: Charlie Savage Accessed on: 03/23/2011

User Comments