Obama Seeks to Assure Influential Jewish Leaders on Iran Deal

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President Barack Obama restated his commitment to keep a nuclear weapon out of the hands of Iran in a defense of the agreement with the Islamic Republic delivered to an influential network of Jewish organizations.

The webcast Friday to members of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations offered Obama a calm forum to reiterate his case for the nuclear agreement. A contentious debate over the deal has persisted for months, pitting the U.S. president against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, who has warned that Iran would more easily obtain a nuclear weapon under the deal and threaten Israel, addressed the same Jewish groups earlier this month.

“This is the best way to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon,” Obama said in the webcast. “That should be our number one priority.”

The interview, conducted in the White House and shown live on the Internet, allowed Obama to rebut arguments of the deal’s critics while also conveying his connections to the U.S. Jewish community.

“I’m someone who wouldn’t be sitting here without the support of some of my friends and supporters in the Jewish community,” Obama told the interviewers, Michael Siegal, chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America board of trustees, and Stephen M. Greenberg, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Historical Parallels

Obama said he understood Israeli vigilance against external threats by drawing parallels between the “loathsome” persecutions of Jews and of African-Americans in history.

He said he expects tensions with Netanyahu’s government would ease once the agreement is put into effect. He likened the dispute to a disagreement within a family.

Obama is edging closer to having enough support from Democrats in the Senate to keep Congress from scuttling the accord, negotiated with Iran by the U.S. and five other world powers. The Republican-controlled Congress has until the end of the day Sept. 17 to pass a resolution disapproving the agreement, which Obama has vowed to veto.

Delaware Democrat Tom Carper on Thursday became the 30th senator to announce his support for the deal, leaving Obama just four votes short of the number needed in the Senate to prevent a veto from being overridden by Congress.

Two Democrats

Thus far only two Democratic senators -- Chuck Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the 100-member chamber, and Bob Menendez of New Jersey -- have said they oppose the deal. Three other members of the Democratic leadership in the Senate have announced support for the deal.

There are 14 of the Senate’s 44 Democrats who have yet to take a stand, and Obama has prodded them while making his pitch to interest groups and voters. No Republicans in either the House or Senate have come out in favor of the accord, although Senator Susan Collins of Maine remains undecided and is still reviewing the deal, according to an aide.

In the 435-seat House, at least 230 Republicans and 14 Democrats have announced opposition to the deal. A veto override requires votes from two-thirds of both the House and Senate.

Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday in a speech at Belmont University in Nashville that he expects Obama to have enough votes to preserve the deal, according to the Tennessean newspaper.