It is a deal that's not yet been finalized, and is vulnerable to failure on several possible paths between now and when it will be signed three months from now.
And yet, President Barack Obama called the White House press corps to the Rose Garden on Thursday to take some degree of personal credit for the high-stakes framework agreement reached with the Iranians over their nuclear power program. After his bid for Israeli-Palestinian peace hit a brick wall and the Russia reset dissolved, Obama has staked much of his foreign policy legacy on the ability of the U.S. to negotiate a deal to prevent Iran from getting or making nuclear weapons in exchange for an easing of sanctions and a uranium enrichment schedule that includes intense international monitoring.
If Iran ultimately walks away, that's one thing. Obama has determined, however, that the U.S. will not be the reason for the collapse of a deal. He also knows Republicans want this to be a failure they can hang around Democrats' necks in the 2016 presidential contest.
Yes, the political stakes are high, which partially explains why Obama kept Air Force One waiting for hours at Joint Base Andrews before flying off to Louisville, Ky., for a domestic policy speech in favor of laying out his case, and several specific preemptive defenses, for the framework agreement with Iran. Here are the key points that the president tried to highlight in his remarks on the deal.
1. The deal is good for Israel
While Obama once tried to minimize his strategic differences with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their recent spilling over of mutual frustrations make that an unworkable premise. Instead, the U.S. president tackled this tension—that Republicans have sought to highlight—head on Thursday by saying that "it's no secret" he and Bibi disagree on the right approach to dealing with Iran, but that if their shared goal is to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons, "This is the best option." He also said he'd be speaking with Netanyahu later in the day and reiterated "that there will be no daylight, there is no daylight when it comes to our support for Israel's security and our concerns about Iran's destabilizing policies and threats towards Israel." He said his national security team will "consult closely with the new Israeli government in the coming weeks and months about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and make clear our unshakable commitment to Israel's defense."
2. It's better than the options his political opponents have proposed
Obama sought to preemptively discredit his critics' motives as political. "When you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question: Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world's major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?" he said. "Is it worse than doing what we've done for almost two decades with Iran moving forward with its nuclear program and without robust inspections?" He went on to liken his moves to those of two Republican predecessors. "Presidents like Nixon and Reagan struck historic arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, a far more dangerous adversary, despite the fact that that adversary not only threatened to destroy our country and our way of life, but had the means to do so. Those agreements were not perfect. They did not end all threats. But they made our world safer. A good deal with Iran will do the same."
3. It makes us safer
"If this framework leads to a final, comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer," Obama said. Alternately, "We could pull out of negotiations, try to get other countries to go along and continue sanctions that are currently in place or add additional ones and hope for the best, knowing that every time we have done so, Iran has not capitulated, but instead has advanced its program," Obama said. "And that in very short order, the breakout timeline would be eliminated and a nuclear arms race in the region could be triggered because of that uncertainty." That would inevitably lead the U.S. to a question of whether to go to war because "we'd have no idea what was going on inside of Iran. Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so. That's not how the world works." Obama also said that "should negotiations collapse because we, the United States, rejected what the majority of the world considers a fair deal, what our scientists and nuclear experts suggest would give us confidence that they are not developing a nuclear weapon, it's doubtful that we could even keep our current international sanctions in place.
4. The U.S. can still walk away if the Iranians are being disingenuous
"The deal has not been signed," Obama said. "Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed." This gives him an out if things go bad between now and the end of June. It also gives Hillary Clinton or any other potential Democratic presidential contender a way to hedge; they're in favor of talks supported by the international community so long as the U.S. takes its time to get the details right. "This deal is not based on trust; it's based on unprecedented verification," Obama said. "If there is backsliding on the part of the Iranians, if the verification and inspection mechanisms don't meet the specifications of our nuclear and security experts, there will be no deal. If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it. Iran's past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed."
5. It boosts U.S. standing in the world
Obama campaigned in 2008 on the premise that George W. Bush's unilateralism had hurt U.S. standing as the world's superpower and weakened the U.S. posture and by steering toward multilateral approaches Obama could rebuild the U.S. brand. He's making the case this deal does that, and that for lawmakers or Republican presidential candidates to spike the deal would do the opposite. "If Congress kills this deal not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative, then it's the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy. International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen."