Iran Nuclear Accord Represents ‘Clear Thinking,’ Obama SaysMargaret Talev and Toluse Olorunnipa
A nuclear deal with Iran represents U.S. pragmatism rather than weakness, and a foreign policy victory that will avert another Mideast war, President Barack Obama said in a speech Wednesday.
“It does not ensure a warming between our two countries. But it achieves one of our most critical security objectives. As such, it is a very good deal,” Obama said at American University in Washington in an address that is part of his campaign to sway lawmakers and build public support for the agreement.
The president drew comparisons with treaties and agreements struck between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War to avert an armed conflict and reduce nuclear arsenals.
“The agreement now reached between the international community and the Islamic Republic of Iran builds on this tradition of strong, principled policy diplomacy,” he said.
Obama is seeking to consolidate support for the Iran agreement as U.S. lawmakers from both parties who oppose the deal threaten a September vote to disapprove it. So long as Obama can keep opposition beneath the two-thirds majorities required to override his veto, the accord will stand.
The White House considered Obama’s speech important enough that it skipped the daily press briefing, ensuring he would be the administration’s sole public voice for the day. Opponents of the accord accused Obama of misleading the American public.
“President Obama’s speech today is just another example of his reliance on endless strawmen to divert attention from his failed policies,” Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Wednesday in a joint statement.
The venue for Obama’s speech was symbolic. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy chose the American University campus for a major address on the U.S. relationship with the Soviet Union, its Cold War foe, and urging a ban on testing nuclear weapons.
Kennedy rejected the prevailing arguments in “some foreign policy circles” that would have the U.S. on perpetual war footing, Obama said. Instead, the address set the stage for the U.S. and the Soviet Union step back even while relations remained hostile, Obama said.
“Not every conflict was averted,” he said. “But the world avoided nuclear catastrophe and we created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets.”
On the eve of his speech, Obama made his case in private to American Jewish community leaders at the White House. The president “implored the participants to represent the agreement accurately,” said Robert Wexler, president of the Washington-based S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, who attended the meeting.
Wexler said Obama described his own personal and emotional commitment to the security and well-being of Israel, saying it would be a moral failure if the deal endangered the U.S. ally.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes the agreement and is lobbying American Jews and members of Congress to reject it.
“This is the time to oppose this dangerous deal,” he said in a webcast Tuesday from Jerusalem aimed at American Jewish leaders. “The days when the Jewish people could not speak out for themselves are over.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday that his chamber will probably consider a resolution of disapproval.
Obama said a vote to reject the deal would isolate the U.S. and allow Iran to move closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon even as international sanctions unravel.
“In that sense, the critics are right. Walk away from this agreement, and you will get a better deal -- for Iran,” he said.
With his speech, the president is trying to set the tenor of the debate as dozens of lawmakers travel to Israel to meet with Netanyahu during their August recess and other will be confronted by television ads in the home districts funded by opponents of the deal. Obama departs Washington on Friday for a two-week family vacation.
The agreement announced last month in Vienna between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers eases crippling economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in return for verifiable limits on its nuclear program.
Obama says the accord cuts off every path to a nuclear weapon for Iran, which would shut down about two-thirds of its centrifuges used to enrich uranium and dispose of 98 percent of its stockpile of the substance. A nuclear reactor capable of producing plutonium would be redesigned and rebuilt.
Republicans have criticized the deal as too lenient. Iran wouldn’t have to destroy its centrifuges and will have about three weeks’ notice before inspections of undeclared nuclear sites. After 10 years Iran could increase its uranium enrichment, and many other restrictions on its nuclear activities would end after 15 years, though some inspections would continue in perpetuity.
Republicans have also demanded to review confidential agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will inspect the country’s nuclear facilities under the accord. The Obama administration has promised closed-door briefings on the agreements for lawmakers.