In an interview published Wednesday, President Obama said it was “doubtful” many current Republicans would support the Iran nuclear deal. The president also argued the “yardstick” for success cannot be whether or not Iran can obtain a nuclear weapon.
Speaking to Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times after the terms of the deal were announced, Obama, when asked if any of the “400 Republican candidates” running for president would support the deal, said, “I think it’s doubtful that we get a lot of current Republican elected officials supporting this deal.”
“I think there’s a certain party line that has to be towed, within their primaries and among many sitting members of Congress,” he continued. “But that’s not across the board. It’ll be interesting to see what somebody like a Rand Paul has to say about this. But I think that if I were succeeded by a Republican president — and I’ll be doing everything that I can to prevent that from happening — but if I were, that Republican president would be in a much stronger position than I was when I came into office, in terms of constraining Iran’s nuclear program.”
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Obama also did not mince words after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal “an historic mistake for the world.” The two world leaders spoke on the phone Tuesday after the deal was announced.
“[I] think it’s fair to say that under my administration, we’ve done more to facilitate Israeli capabilities,” Obama said. “And I’ve also said that I’m prepared to go further than any other administration’s gone before in terms of providing them additional security assurances from the United States.” He continued:
The thing I want to emphasize is that people’s concerns here are legitimate. Hezbollah has tens of thousands of missiles that are pointed toward Israel. They are becoming more sophisticated. The interdiction of those weapon flows has not been as successful as it needs to be. There are legitimate concerns on the part of the gulf countries about Iran trying to stir up and prompt destabilizing events inside their countries…
Now, Prime Minister Netanyahu would prefer, and many of the critics would prefer, that they don’t even have any nuclear capacity. But really, what that involves is eliminating the presence of knowledge inside of Iran. Nuclear technology is not that complicated today, and so the notion that the yardstick for success was now whether they ever had the capacity possibly to obtain nuclear weapons — that can’t be the yardstick. The question is, Do we have the kind of inspection regime and safeguards and international consensus whereby it’s not worth it for them to do it? We have accomplished that.
Netanyahu, Obama added, “perhaps thinks he can further influence the congressional debate, and I’m confident we’re going to be able to uphold this deal and implement it without Congress preventing that. But after that’s done, if that’s what he thinks is appropriate, then I will sit down, as we have consistently throughout my administration, and then ask some very practical questions: How do we prevent Hezbollah from acquiring more sophisticated weapons? How do we build on the success of Iron Dome, which the United States worked with Israel to develop and has saved Israeli lives? In the same way I’m having conversation with the gulf countries about how do we have a more effective interdiction policy, how do we build more effective governance structures and military structures in Sunni areas that have essentially become a void that [the Islamic State] has filled or that, in some cases, Iranian activities can exploit?”
“So they’re not just being paranoid,” he continued. “Iran is acting in an unconstructive way, in a dangerous way in these circumstances. What I’ve simply said is that we have to keep our eye on the ball here, which is that Iran with a nuclear weapon will do more damage, and we will be in a much worse position to prevent it.”
Obama later stated that, “what I’ve also tried to explain to people, including Prime Minister Netenyahu, is that in the absence of a deal, our ability to sustain these sanctions was not in the cards. Keep in mind it’s not just Iran that paid a price for sanctions. China. Japan. South Korea. India — pretty much any oil importer around the world that had previously import arrangements from Iran — found themselves in a situation where this was costing them billions of dollars to sustain these sanctions.”
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