Obama defends Iran deal
December 7th, 2013
04:37 PM ET
9 months ago

Obama defends Iran deal

Updated 6:27 pm ET, 12/7/2013

Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama defended his administration's nuclear deal with Iran, arguing that the ground had been set for a comprehensive agreement that would make the United States, Israel and the Middle East safer, but warning that all options would remain on the table if a deal fell through.

"The best way for us to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is for a comprehensive, verifiable, diplomatic resolution, without taking any other options off the table if we fail to achieve that. It is important for us to test that proposition during the next six months," he said Saturday at the Saban Forum, a policy summit organized by the Brookings Institution to discuss issues surrounding the Middle East and U.S.-Israeli relations.


"If at the end of six months, it turns out that we can't make a deal, we're no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them," he continued.

One of the most vocal critics of the deal is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On the eve of the agreement, he told CNN's Candy Crowley that no deal was better than a bad deal and, "This is a bad deal."

Obama must have been watching.

"If we can't get there, then no deal is better than a bad deal. But presuming that it's going to be a bad deal, and as a consequence, not even trying for a deal, I think, would be a dire pursuit," he said.

Throughout the 45-minute conversation with Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media mogul and namesake of Brookings' Saban Center, Obama stressed that relations with Israel were still strong. Military coordination, intelligence cooperation, and security support have never been better, he said.

Still, the president was surprisingly honest about where there are differences between him and Netanyahu.

"There are times where I, as president of the United States, am going to have different tactical perspectives than the prime minister of Israel, and that is understandable," he said.

He made clear that he respects Israel's need to look after its own security first, but argued that getting Iran to completely abandon its nuclear aspirations was chimerical.

"One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said we'll destroy every element and facility and - you name it, it's all gone. I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward. I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful," he joked.

Ultimately, however, a deal in which Iran is granted nuclear power for civilian purposes in exchange for intrusive inspections is the best, most realistic option, he argued.

That concession has outraged some in Israel and the U.S., who argue it is a naive appeasement that gives Iran the right to enrichment. Obama believes otherwise.

"There's nothing in this agreement or document that grants Iran a right to enrich," he said. "If negotiations break down, there will be no additional international recognition that's been obtained, so this deal goes away and we're back to where we were before the Geneva agreement."

Obama pushed further, saying that if a comprehensive deal was reached, enrichment capability would be so limited and inspections so intrusive that "as a practical matter," Iran would not have the breakout capacity to build a nuclear weapon.

Iranian leaders interpret the deal differently. After Geneva, Rouhani said the outcome means world powers have "recognized Iran's nuclear rights," including the right to enrich uranium.

"This right has been explicitly stipulated by this agreement, stressing that Iran will go on with enrichment," he said.

Like other aspects, it is an important and ambiguous detail that for the moment allows both sides to claim victory and going forward could be worked out in this comprehensive agreement down the road.

And just how far away is that kind of deal?

"If you asked me what is the likelihood that we're able to arrive at the end state that I was describing earlier, I wouldn't say that it's more than 50-50," said Obama. "But we have to try."

–CNN's Holly Yan, Josh Levs, and Tara Kangarlou contributed to this report.


Filed under: Iran • Nuclear weapons • President Obama
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Gurgyl

    Any one that has brain will defend it. It is an opportunity that middle-east is giving. Just grab it. Writer is an educated. O.k. Better stabilize this middle-east. Not every one is Laden, there are lot of good people up there too. Grab it.

    December 7, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  2. xyz

    Israel's interests are not our interest. We can use diplomacy if we want to. Israel tried to gag the us from using diplomacy. they will probably sabotage it.

    December 7, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  3. Rick McDaniel

    There are many, many questions about the Iran deal........and few people outside of the regime, think it was a good deal, that's for certain.

    December 7, 2013 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  4. bill

    Lie after lie the man can not tell the truth on anything ..

    December 7, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  5. Peppy

    Once again bammy shows the world he is a doormat, it would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

    December 7, 2013 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  6. Tampa Tim

    I know the right wing war machine will have their chicken hawks out on Fox demanding another war. Fortunately, the brain dead right represents only 30% of our population.

    December 7, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  7. Tampa Tim

    The republican "war is good" crowd has done enough damage to our country, we don't need any more of their crap.

    December 7, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  8. Peppy

    Honest I forgot I met my uncle and lived with him, what a joke

    December 7, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  9. rs

    What is to defend? The deal end's any bid the Iranian government had for nuclear weaponry, and the inspections mean that the economic restrictions can be back in place immediately if they stray. No armies, no violence.

    December 7, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  10. ThinkAgain

    Israel would much rather have us engage Iran diplomatically than militarily, given its close proximity to Iran. Engagement keeps Iran from being isolated – and vulnerable to influence from the likes of Syria and Russia, who definitely do NOT have the U.S.'s best interest at heart.

    December 7, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  11. Hamdy

    Finally we are putting diplomacy to use. FINALLY!

    December 7, 2013 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  12. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    It appears that under Mr. Obama's watch, we got rid of Syria’s chemical weapons and maybe even Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Not bad for a president the right wing calls a coward, a Muslim, a liar, a socialist, a Kenyan, a pimp, etc.

    December 7, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  13. Doc1

    Isreal's become an unreasonable bully. They should be ignored so long as most other nations are approving of whatever deal is made with Iran.

    December 7, 2013 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  14. Iamnotfooled

    Go President Obama, make peace not war.

    December 7, 2013 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  15. correctlycenter

    It is more like Iran's interests are not our interests. Israel is our friend and the only real democracy in the Middle East...

    December 7, 2013 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  16. xyz

    We've got our own problems. this health care thing isn't working out. We don't have to help countries that already have a real national health plan. We've got bigger problems. Our cities are going bankrupt. Our families are bankrupt. Get the lead out up there.

    December 7, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  17. simplyput

    Stabilize the Middle East? What an absurd notion.

    December 7, 2013 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  18. hmoghad

    Obama is a problem solver and his tactics is to trust & verify so let us pray and support him for his actions in the middle east.

    December 7, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  19. ED1

    Why wouldn't he they are his brothers.

    December 8, 2013 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  20. Donna

    Iran is most likely taking page out of North Korea's book. Nothing they have said indicates they intend to stop enrichment. Time will tell if Obama, Kerry and the rest of the world were snookered yet again. But one thing is for sure, this whole thing has frozen Israel in its tracks. Maybe that is all it was intended to do?

    December 8, 2013 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  21. Marie MD

    Imagine that Israel's leader, Netanyahu, a very good friend of the twit who is also being questioned by his own people about his spending while the middle class suffers.
    Sound familiar? Answer. . . . Very similar to the teaklans in the US.
    Why is trying to bring peace and/or compromise to the world dirty words while war and death, for some, is the only answer?

    December 8, 2013 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  22. don in albuquerque

    I would agree we need to keep a watchful eye on Iran, once burned twice shy. But to condemn anyone's moves to bring peace to that area, no only invites disaster-it begs for it.

    December 8, 2013 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  23. Thomas

    Next Cuba .

    December 8, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  24. David

    Our diplomacy worked wonders with North Korea. Diplomacy requires strong diplomatic negotiators, not appeasers looking for personal glory and opportune photo-ops.

    December 8, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  25. JM

    Iran is a terrorist state, they orchestrated the killings of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also supported the attack in Bengazi (read foreign press for the truth). Way makes you think they have turned over a new leaf , they have never renounced their goal to destroy Isreal and still view us as their enemy. So why in the world, especially if Obama thinks it is less than 50 50 it will work would you ease the sanctions giving Iran 6 months to accelerate their goal of getting the bomb.

    December 8, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
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