Obama Lobbies for Iran Deal as U.S. Assures on SanctionsJustin Sink
President Barack Obama and his top aides began the job of selling the outline nuclear agreement with Iran in a flurry of calls to lawmakers and assurances that sanctions on the Islamic Republic won’t be lifted anytime soon.
Obama used his weekly address on Saturday to respond to some of the objections from congressional critics of the deal. He said that any relief from economic sanctions will be phased in and that penalties in place over Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights abuses and missile development will remain in force. Verification of Iran’s compliance will be key, he said.
“This deal is not based on trust, it’s based on unprecedented verification,” Obama said. “Iran will never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.”
Obama spent time Friday calling lawmakers, including the four top leaders of the House and Senate, and U.S. allies in the region to discuss the negotiations and the terms of the preliminary agreement.
The administration is putting particular emphasis on reaching out to Senator Bob Corker, who as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee will be a central player in the congressional reaction to the deal. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken put in a call to the Tennessee Republican.
The White House was heartened when Corker, sponsor of a bill that would give Congress authority to approve or reject any deal, issued a statement Thursday that didn’t condemn the deal outright, as many of his Republican colleagues did, according to an administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss strategy.
Still, Corker said there was “growing bipartisan support” for congressional review of the nuclear deal, and predicted a “strong vote” for his proposed bill when the Foreign Relations committee takes it up on April 14.
While Obama has vowed to veto Corker’s legislation as currently proposed, the official said the administration was open to negotiating how Congress can play an oversight role.
Several Democrats who are co-sponsoring Corker’s bill also called Thursday for Congress to review a final agreement.
The “announcement deserves careful, rigorous and deliberate analysis,” New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the chamber, said in a statement.
Setting Out Choices
Obama said there are only two other choices: bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities or more sanctions. The former, he said, would set back Iran’s development only a few years and start another war in the Middle East. New sanctions would lead to Iran ignoring the negotiating table and continuing its progress toward a bomb.
“I firmly believe that the diplomatic option -- a comprehensive, long-term deal like this -- is by far the best option,” Obama said.
In addition to the president and Blinken, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, and Deputy National Security Adviser Avril Haines, all placed numerous phone calls to members of the House and Senate from both parties, according to the White House.
“The most important thing we can do in the immediate aftermath of the deal being reached is make sure they feel like they’re getting the information they need,” Eric Schultz, deputy White House press secretary told reporters traveling with Obama back to Washington from an event in Utah Friday.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday that Iran wouldn’t get any relief from economic sanctions until months after the June deadline for sealing a final agreement. How quickly that happens will depend on Iran meeting requirements to limit its nuclear program, she said.
Harf also said the framework agreement would create the “most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime” ever by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
As the administration worked to emphasize the advantages that the U.S. would gain under the tentative accord, Harf acknowledged there are questions that will only be answered after further negotiations.
She said that inspectors from the IAEA could visit all three of Iran’s declared nuclear energy sites and request visits anywhere and at anytime. But she said negotiations are continuing over whether that would include military facilities, which Iran has refused to open in the past.
While she also said that the U.S could reimpose sanctions “very quickly” if Iran violated terms of a nuclear accord, she said details of a planned conflict-resolution procedure have yet to be shaped.
Obama also looked to shore up support internationally for the negotiations. In addition to discussions Thursday with the leaders of Germany, France, and the U.K. -- part of the group of nations that brokered the pact this week in Switzerland -- the president placed calls to skittish U.S. allies in the Middle East.
Before announcing the deal to the American public, he spoke to King Salman of Saudi Arabia. He invited the Saudi leader and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab political and economic union, to a summit at Camp David.
The countries that are part of the council have long been wary of Iran, and there remains concern among the Arab states that the deal could portend a warming of relations between the U.S. and Iran. Still, officials in the international collective so far have held off on commenting on the nuclear plan.
On Air Force One as he returned to Washington Friday afternoon, Obama spoke with the leaders of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the White House said.
The president’s discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a critic of the negotiations who has lobbied Republicans to keep up pressure on the White House, appeared less fruitful.
Netanyahu said on Twitter that he told Obama of his opposition to the agreement. “A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel,” and “would not block Iran’s path to the bomb,” Netanyahu said. Senior Israeli ministers united Friday in opposition to the deal.
Obama told Netanyahu that the U.S. remains concerned about Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and threats against Israel, according to a White House statement. He said the administration’s commitment to Israel is “steadfast” and promised continued consultation on security matters.
Obama’s Iranian counterpart faces a similarly challenging political dynamic selling the deal in his country.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is dealing with influential hardliners who believe his country should be pursuing nuclear weapons, and a population desperate for quick sanctions relief. The Revolutionary Guard and monied operators on the black market are also agitating against a deal, according to a U.S. official.
Evidence of those politics was on display Thursday, when Rouhani’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, criticized the Obama administration over a fact sheet it released detailing elements of the agreement.
“The solutions are good for all, as they stand,” he tweeted. “There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on.”
Zarif also disputed Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion that the sanctions relief would be staged over time.
For both Obama and Rouhani, the talks represent a chance to validate campaign promises they made suggesting the promise of negotiations with long-entrenched enemies.
During his first presidential campaign, Obama drew ridicule when he said it would reach out to rogue international actors and U.S. adversaries. He’s maintained that approach across his presidency, including the announcement last year his efforts to begin normalizing relations with Cuba.
Next week, the progress of that effort will come under renewed scrutiny when Obama heads to the Summit of the Americas in Panama. While there, its expected Obama could meet with Cuban leader Raul Castro, in a move certain to draw new criticism of his foreign policy approach.