Nuclear Deal May Lead to More Moderate Iran, Obama Says

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking at American University's School of International Service in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015.

Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

The nuclear agreement with Iran may help the U.S. and other countries focus on combating Islamic State and dealing with instability in other Middle Eastern countries, President Barack Obama said in two interviews released Monday.

As he campaigns to build public support for the deal reached by the U.S. and five other world powers with Iran, Obama maintained in interviews with and National Public Radio that the accord eases the chances of a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic amid the battle with extremists in Iraq and Syria.

The deal, which Congress will take up in September, also has the potential to change Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world, Obama said, adding that he has only “modest” hopes for a shift in Iran’s leadership.

“You could see a greater understanding and peace in the region because part of the problem that we’ve seen emerging in the Middle East is a lot of sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni,” Obama said in the interview, conducted Thursday at the White House. “And Iran, as the largest Shiite state, if it’s got a better relationship with Sunni majority states like Saudi Arabia, they, in fact, can have a useful influence on the region.”

Obama Outreach

The interviews with Mic, an online publication aimed at people in their 20s and 30s, and NPR were conducted with Congress midway through a six-week review period of the deal. Most Republicans, who have the majority in the House and Senate, and a few Democrats have announced they’ll vote to disapprove the agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also opposes the agreement and has urged lawmakers to reject it. An arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the U.S. groups lobbying against the accord, is sponsoring a trip by lawmakers to Israel that includes a meeting with Netanyahu.

Obama is counting on congressional Democrats to either fend off a vote in the Senate or prevent Republicans from overriding his veto of a resolution of disapproval.

The two interviews released Monday were the latest components of a White House campaign targeting different segments of the U.S. public and international audience. In the Mic interview, Obama took questions from a 22-year-old woman in Iran and a 30-year-old man in Israel.

Scientists’ Letter

The president delivered a speech defending the deal last week and met with leaders of Jewish-American groups. The White House over the weekend highlighted a letter in support of the accord sent by more than two dozen scientists to Obama.

“A key result of these restrictions is that it would take Iran many months to enrich uranium for a weapon,” the scientists wrote, among them American Association for the Advancement of Science Chief Executive Officer Rush Holt, a former Democratic congressman. “We contrast this with the situation before the interim agreement was negotiated in Lausanne: at that time Iran had accumulated enough 20 percent enriched uranium that the required additional enrichment time for weapons use was only a few weeks.”

Obama, in the NPR interview, said the “breakout time,” or amount of time it would take Iran to make a nuclear weapon, at the end of the agreement would revert to about the same period of time it would take now. That fact has been the target of critics of the deal, but Obama said delaying Iran’s nuclear capabilities is worth doing.

“If in fact the breakout times now are a few months, and we’re able to push that breakout time out to a year so that we have more time and space to see whether or not Iran is cheating on an agreement, kicking out inspectors, going for a nuclear weapon; if the breakout time is extended for 15 years and then it goes back to where it is right now, why is that a bad deal?” Obama told NPR.

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