Obama takes on critics of Iran deal

US President Barack Obama
US President Barack ObamaPHOTO: REUTERS

US President challenges naysayers to offer alternatives, rebuts criticism of nuclear pact

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday confronted head on the growing criticism towards the Iran nuclear deal, and challenged opponents to offer an alternative.

During a press conference at the White House, a confident and at times aggressive President Obama sought to counter nearly every argument critics had lobbed at the deal.

"Have we exhausted Iran questions here?" he asked reporters when the questions turned away from the Iran pact. "I just want to make sure that we're not leaving any stones unturned here."

Since the historic accord between six world powers and Iran was announced on Tuesday, it has come under intense fire from Israel and the Republicans, who argue that the United States was being short-changed in the agreement.

A NUDGE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

My hope is that, building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivise them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave. But we are not counting on it.

US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

Two of the main arguments that have been put forward by critics are that the deal - which grants Iran sanctions relief in return for limits on its nuclear programme - does nothing to change Iran's destabilising behaviour in the Middle East, and that it left much of the regime's nuclear infrastructure in place.

Mr Obama on Wednesday said the first argument defies logic while the second was based on a fantasy that Iran would accept a deal that left it without even peaceful nuclear capabilities.

The President stressed the No. 1 priority for negotiators was to ensure Iran did not get a nuclear wea-pon. So, while he acknowledged that the US will still have significant differences with Iran after the agreement, the negotiators were never trying to overcome those.

He said: "My hope is that, building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivise them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave. But we are not counting on it. The argument that I've been already hearing... that because this deal does not solve all those other problems, that that's an argument for rejecting this deal, defies logic. It makes no sense."

Ultimately, he said, the choice boiled down to a simple dichotomy. "Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation, or it's resolved through force, through war. Those are the options."

His remarks come as the global sales pitch for the deal continued. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is heading to Israel to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he will be soon followed by US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter.

Meanwhile, attacks against the deal continued unabated in the US.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a candidate for the Republican nominee for president, accused Mr Obama of lying about the strength of the inspections mechanism.

Another candidate, Senator Ted Cruz, said Mr Obama's decision has likely left the next president with the prospect of taking military action against a regime on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons.

In Teheran, a letter from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei thanked negotiators but warned that some of the world powers party to the deal " are not trustworthy at all".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2015, with the headline 'Obama takes on critics of Iran deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe