Special Coverage: Obama Discusses Iran Deal

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Here & Now provided special coverage of the president’s news conference Wednesday afternoon in which he spoke about the nuclear agreement with Iran and took questions. The audio includes the entirety of the remarks ad special coverage.

President Barack Obama vigorously defended the nuclear deal with Iran on Wednesday, casting the historic accord as the only possibility to avert war with Iran and a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

With his foreign policy legacy on the line, Obama put the onus on the deal's critics to voice an alternative, and said those who prefer a military strike should own up. He said the U.S. faces a "fundamental choice" - aiming his comments squarely at Congress, where lawmakers have a two-month window to try to thwart the deal.

"If we don't choose wisely, I believe future generations will judge us harshly," Obama said, describing a potentially squandered opportunity to make the Mideast and the world a safer place. The deal's critics allege exactly the opposite, suggesting it could spur Iranian foes like Saudi Arabia to launch their own nuclear program.

In a reminder of the tough road ahead, Obama conceded that the deal will do little to quiet many other U.S. concerns about Iran. He acknowledged it was likely that the easing of economic sanctions would free up funds that Iran could use to sponsor terrorism against Israel or other countries.

"That is a likelihood," Obama said, though he predicted it wouldn't be a "game-changer."

As Obama spoke at the White House, the deal's critics were only growing louder. House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman said Obama had shown himself to be "hopelessly disconnected from reality." And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing his country's parliament Wednesday, suggested Israel could still take military action against Iran's nuclear program even if the deal proceeds.

"We will reserve our right to defend ourselves against all of our enemies," Netanyahu said. "We have strength, and it is great and mighty."

Under the deal announced Tuesday, Iran's nuclear program will be scaled back and closely monitored as the U.S. and world powers seek to cut off Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapon. In exchange, Iran will see biting economic sanctions eventually lifted, freeing up billions of dollars in oil revenue and frozen assets.

In the absence of a deal, Obama said, the international economic sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table will unravel, and the world community will be unable to put the sanctions regime back together.

"Without a deal, we risk even more war in the Middle East, and other countries in the Middle East would feel compelled to develop their own nuclear weapons," Obama said, adding that such a chain of events would risk a nuclear arms race "in the most dangerous region in the world."

Obama's allies were mounting a concerted push to sell the agreement to skeptics, while critics warned of dire consequences.

Vice President Joe Biden, who spent the morning on Capitol Hill briefing House Democrats, told reporters he was confident lawmakers would get behind the deal. At the United Nations, the U.S. began circulating a draft Security Council resolution to authorize the deal.

Meanwhile, Iranians took to the streets of Tehran to celebrate the accord, and even Iran's hard-liners offered only mild criticism - a far cry from the outspoken opposition that the White House had feared.

But in Jerusalem, Israeli leaders were planning what is expected to be a lobbying effort in the U.S. Congress. Israel and the deal's other opponents have lambasted the Obama administration for granting sanctions relief while Iran continues to fund terrorist groups in places like Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

Obama said the U.S. would keep seeking Tehran's cooperation on other security issues, but acknowledged it wasn't likely.

"We're not betting on it," he said.

Aiming to frame the parameters for the growing debate, Obama bemoaned that opponents have been trading in "speculation or misinformation" about the deal. Still, he acknowledged, "We live in Washington, and politics do intrude."

Obama sought to rebut specific critiques that Republicans and others have voiced - such as concerns about whether sanctions can really be "snapped back" into place if Iran cheats. Obama insisted that they could, even if Russia or China objects.

He rejected concerns that Iran could use delays to block inspections of suspicious military sites until it's too late, arguing the world would have a full year to intervene before Iran could feasibly build a bomb.

And he bristled at suggestions he should have made the deal contingent on Iran releasing detained Americans. He suggested that would give Iran more incentive to hold U.S. hostages as negotiating chips.

Although a longstanding embargo on selling arms to Iran will sunset in five years, Obama shrugged off that concern, too. He said the U.S. and its partners have other ways to prevent Iran from sending weapons abroad.

Obama's historic engagement with the longtime U.S. foe has sparked speculation of a broader detente between the U.S. and Iran, which severed ties after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. In Iraq, American and Iranian forces that are both fighting Islamic State militants have sought to stay out of each other's way, but Obama insisted there would be no formal cooperation with Iran on the IS threat.


This segment aired on July 15, 2015.


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