Obama Says Ayatollah’s Anti-U.S. Tweets Won’t Harm Iran Deal

Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Source: Khamenei.ir/Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Source: Khamenei.ir/Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Barack Obama shrugged off anti-American barbs and tweets from Iran’s Supreme Leader, calling Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “a politician” whose rhetoric won’t threaten a deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

“Superpowers don’t respond to taunts,” Obama said in an Aug. 6 interview on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” that aired Sunday. Obama added that he’s “not interested in a Twitter back-and-forth with the Supreme Leader.”

In defending the Iran deal, Obama reiterated arguments he’s made for weeks: that the agreement will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and that rejecting it would present the U.S. with only worse options, including another war.

“Nobody has presented a plausible alternative, other than military strikes, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.

The president dismissed as unrealistic calls by Republicans to keep economic sanctions in place and to reopen negotiations to obtain a more stringent nuclear accord. Demands that Iran be prohibited from any enrichment of uranium would never gain international backing, he said.

“We did not have the support of that position among our global allies, who have been so critical in maintaining sanctions and applying the pressure that was necessary to get Iran to the table,” Obama said.

‘Real World’

“And so in the real world, the alternatives you just described were not available,” Obama said to Zakaria.

The interview, which was taped before Obama left Washington for a 17-day vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, is part of a media blitz to rally support for the deal. After returning to the nation’s capital, Obama will face a crucial congressional vote on the agreement, which the U.S. and five other world powers negotiated with Iran and agreed to on July 14.

Pro-Israel groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are waging a multimillion dollar campaign to convince lawmakers -- particularly undecided Democrats -- to reject the deal. They earned a victory when Senator Charles Schumer, a New Yorker poised to become the Senate’s next Democratic leader, came out against the deal.

‘Nefarious Goals’

“The very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals, is too great,” Schumer said in a statement on Aug. 6.

How many Democrats will follow Schumer’s lead is unclear; the majority of Republicans in Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have denounced the deal.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who hasn’t taken a position on the deal, offered some positive comments about it on Sunday that stopped short of an endorsement.

“It’s not a perfect deal, obviously,” McCaskill said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” broadcast. “We don’t trust Iran. But I think too many people are judging this deal against the status quo, not what the new situation would be on the world stage. Remember, the world is united in this deal.”

McCaskill said she is conferring with officials from other countries to see if they would maintain sanctions if Congress rejects the deal.

Television commercials blasting the agreement as “a bad deal” are running in more than 35 states, said Patrick Thornton, a spokesman for Citizens for a Nuclear-Free Iran, a group backed by AIPAC.

‘Arms Race’

“We think the proposed deal will ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” Thornton said in a phone interview. “Democrats should be especially concerned about rewarding an Iranian regime that represses its own people.”

On the other side of the debate, 29 top U.S. scientists, including Nobel laureates and former White House science advisers, wrote a letter to Obama on Saturday praising the deal as innovative and stringent, the New York Times reported.

The White House has worked hard to counter critics of the agreement, including a during an appearance by Obama in July on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. In the interview with CNN, the president reiterated his accusation that Republicans opposing the deal “have a lot in common” with Iranian hard-liners.

‘Death to America’

Obama told CNN that public opposition to the deal in the U.S. is linked to anti-American statements from Khamenei and Iranian hard-liners -- including chants of “Death to America.”

In a Twitter post in July from his English language account, Khamenei included an image that appeared to portray Obama with a gun to his head. Asked about the post, Obama said he wouldn’t take the bait and respond to “taunts.”

“There’s always a gap between rhetoric and action,” Obama said. “And, you know, the Supreme Leader is a politician, apparently, just like everybody else.”

Obama also said the sanctions relief Iran stands to obtain under the deal is “not a game-changer” for security in the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes the deal, hasn’t come up with a better alternative, Obama said.

Veto Threat

Lawmakers have until the end of the day Sept. 17 to complete their 60-day review of the agreement. A rejection of the deal by Congress would reduce the standing of the U.S. in the world, Obama said.

While some Democrats have voiced support for the deal after lobbying from the White House, many, like McCaskill, are still on the fence. How they decide to vote could determine whether or not the nuclear agreement moves forward.

Obama has pledged veto any bill to reject the deal. His aides have said there is enough support among Senate Democrats to sustain such a veto.

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