Thank you. Dear friends, thank you so very much. It is a great personal privilege to join you today in this largest, and I would say, most important AIPAC Policy Conference ever. Thank you very much.
I also want to thank whoever planned the program this morning because in the thousands of times that I've been called on to speak, I never had a better warm-up act than Kathy Ireland. Thank you, Kathy Ireland. And God bless you for all you do.
Now, as many of you know, later this week, the holiday of Purim is celebrated in which we read the book of Esther, a story of a miraculous rescue of the Jewish people for annihilation. The hand of God is there on every page of the story of the book of Esther. But the work that is ultimately brought about by the acts of a single principled, courageous, and beautiful woman named Hadassah Esther.
In this week, I would be remiss if I didn't introduce to you the beautiful principled and courageous woman I'm blessed to have as my wife, Hadassah Esther Lieberman. Thank you. So I am sure you'll agree with me that the best proof of Hadassah's courage is that she has lived with me for 29 years.
Okay. For me, as you know, this is a special moment because it's the last time I'll have the honor to stand before you at this conference as United States senator. But I want to make very clear -- next year I'm just leaving the Senate. I'm not retiring. And I specifically want to pledge to you now that whatever the next chapter of my life brings and wherever it takes me, I will continue to stand with you as you have stood with me, to fight for the causes that brought us together year after year -- a strong America, a strong Israel, and an unbreakable relationship between America and Israel.
I've been fortunate, to put it mildly, to serve in the United States Senate for 24 remarkable years, during which time the world has transformed in ways that defy both prophecy and imagination -- the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the Internet, the 9/11 attacks. In the Middle East, we witnessed, with a great sense of hope, the Oslo Accords of 1993, whose promise, sadly, has yet to be realized. On the other hand, in 1994, Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty which remains today a mutually beneficial model for the rest of the Middle East, Israel and Arab alike.
In the 24 years, we've sadly seen two terrorist intifadas, and now in recent times, the Arab world's historic democratic uprisings. Through the ups and downs, Israel, year after year, has grown more and more vibrant, diverse, and secure. And the U.S.-Israel relationship has grown closer and closer. The bond between our two great democracies and our two great peoples is deeper, wider, and stronger than ever.
And that is obviously because Americans and Israelis have so much in common, from our humanitarian values to our technological innovations; from our system of justice to our systems of defense; from our belief in God to our faith that the Bible is the word of God. Americans and Israelis come together not in an alliance of convenience, but in a relationship of family. And that is expressed most powerfully in the unprecedented long-term bipartisan pro-Israel majority in both houses of Congress.
The truth is that the ultimate guarantor of the U.S.-Israel relationship is each of you. It is you, the American people who from every corner of our country and every possible demographic definer take the time to call on your elected leaders to stand with Israel. That's why your presence today, as it has been every year, is so important. And that is why what AIPAC does every day is so important.
I want to say to you that as much as we have accomplished during the last 24 years in the U.S.-Israel relationship. I must admit that I leave the U.S. Senate with two big items of unfinished business. The first is that despite a great deal of work, Israel still has not been able to achieve the peace with its Palestinian neighbors that its people want and deserve and that everyone in the Middle East would benefit from. But we're never going to stop working for that peace and one day, with God's help, it will come.
My second personal disappointment, and I feel it personally, is that the American Embassy in Israel is still not where it belongs in the city of Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish State of Israel. But neither you nor I will ever forget Jerusalem. And we will continue to fight for a day when the American flag flies proudly over an American Embassy and that day, too, I believe, will come soon.
Today, the United States and Israel face new and even greater dangers as Iran marches toward a nuclear weapons capability. And that challenge is rightly the focus of this conference. Do not let anyone tell you that a nuclear-armed Iran is just Israel's problem. It is not. Do not let anyone tell you that you can learn or we can learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. We cannot.
Do not let anyone tell you that the problem with Iran's nuclear program is what Israel may do about and when. It is not. The problem is what Iran is doing with its nuclear problem and when.
The Iranian nuclear program is a threat to the entire world, but especially to the United States, Israel, and the Arab nations of the Middle East. If Iran is allowed to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, it will set off a cascade of nuclear proliferation as other countries in the region seek atomic arsenals of their own.
If Iran is allowed to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, it will make its terrorist proxies. Groups that have already -- that already have the blood of thousands and thousands of Americans, Israelis, and Arabs on their hands infinitely more dangerous. If Iran is allowed to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, it will be able to bring the global economy to its knees whenever it wants. If you think gas prices are high now in our country, imagine what will happen if Iran could back up its threat to close the Straits of Hormuz with a nuclear weapon.
This is a future we cannot afford. It is a future we can and must prevent. And together we will.
It is definitely within our power to stop Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. The question is not whether we can stop them, but whether we will choose to stop them. And that is why together with my colleagues, Senators Bob Casey and Lindsay Graham and many others, I've introduced a non-partisan resolution that says when it comes to Iran, all options must be on the table except one option and that is containment. It won't work. That's precisely what President Obama has said. Now it's time for the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to say the same thing.
With your help this week, we will soon, and I ask you to bring this up when you visit Capitol Hill tomorrow -- with your help I'm confident we will soon have many more than a majority of members of the United States Senate of all parties supporting this resolution.
Now, let me say that I do not believe that military action to disable Iran's nuclear project is unavoidable. That choice is Iran's. And so far, though economic sanctions applied have clearly affected the Iranian economy, the fact is that they haven't let the fanatics who today run that country to slow up their nuclear weapons program one iota.
Now, we also have choices to make. If a nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable and we all say it is, we must make clear to the world that we're prepared to do whatever is necessary to prevent the unacceptable. The president has said he doesn't bluff and neither can we in Congress. Fact is that there is nothing, in my opinion, more harmful to our chances of stopping Iran peacefully than the suspicion that in the end we will give up and let them have nuclear weapons.
The Iranian regime must hear a message from us and we must state it loud and clear. Either you peacefully negotiate an end to your illicit nuclear activities or they will be ended for you by military attack. It's time for us to make an iron-clad pledge which will be heard both by our friends and enemies in the Middle East and throughout the world. The United States will present Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability by peaceful means if we can, but with military force if we absolutely must.
Now, some of asked why we continue to say that we must stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability rather than saying we aim to stop them from getting nuclear weapons. The answer to that question is direct and it is very important. The time for action is before Iran has crossed the line of capability to put together a weapon when all they have to do is combine the components they've developed to give them a nuclear weapon. My friends, if we wait until Iran has nuclear weapons, it will obviously be too late.
The threat from Iran is more serious than anything phased by the United States and Iran during my 24 years in the senate. But if America, Israel, and our allies stand together, I know we will meet and defeat this threat.
The great Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov, once said, "A country that does not respect the rights of its citizens will not respect the rights of its neighbors." For the sake of the people of Iran and all of its neighbors, Israeli and Arab, the days of the despotic regime that now rules Iran must be numbered. And I'm confident they will be because the majority -- the vast majority of the Iranian people who are after all heirs of one of the world's great civilizations reject the despotic and corrupt rule that they have been forced to live under.
They want the same freedoms and rights as people everywhere. That's a story that we are seeing across the Middle East right now and it is the reason that the people of Syria are fighting courageously as we speak against Iran's only ally in the Arab world, Bashar al-Assad. It is why we must do more to help them overthrow Bashar's evil dictatorship and end his campaign of slaughter.
We simply, based on our own knowledge of history, and a lot of it recent, can no longer stand passively by while people are being murdered wantonly by their own government. We must do more to speed the day when the people of Syria and the people of Iran will again be free.
Let me close now with a few final words of thanks and encouragement to each of you. Because when you come to a conference like this, you step into history and you try to influence its course. The history of the Jewish state of Israel is not brief, although some of its enemies today still want to convince people that it is.
Israel's history didn't begin in 1948. It began thousands of years before in Genesis 12:1 when God called Abraham to the land I will show you and promised Abraham, "I will make you a great nation there." Through the milieus since then, through good times and bad; sometimes it were very good and sometimes it were very bad. Through times of statehood and times of Diaspora, the Jewish presence on the land of Israel has been continuous.
In the late 19th century, Theodor Herzl began the modern Zionist movement to reestablish a Jewish state in the land of Israel. And as you know well, I suspect, when people told Herzl he was a foolish dreamer, he told them, "If you will it, it is no dream." Herzl and so many after him, Jews and Christians, willed it and worked for it, fought for it, and died for it. And in 1948, the dream did become a reality again. And now, as the expression goes, we're blessed because we're living the dream, aren't we? Yes. We are.
But don't ever take it for granted. I know in this room you won't. Because even divinely inspired dreams need the work of steadfast men and women here on earth to keep them real and keep them alive.
I will say to you standing before this enormous and devoted throng, I am full of confidence that in the years ahead and in the generations to come, the work that you and I have been privileged to do together will go on. The dream will never die. And our destiny's call, which is for universal justice and peace, will forever be heard.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel. And God bless the United States of America.