President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama Reuters

US President Barack Obama spoke live from the White House on Wednesday night, one day after announcing the controversial deal struck between Washington, several European and other global powers, and Iran regarding the Iranian nuclear program. 

Obama praised the deal as an example of the will of "the international community to unite around a shared vision, and we resolve to solve problems peacefully."

"As I said yesterday, it's important for the American people and for US Congress to review this deal, and that process is now underway," he continued. "I've already reached out to leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle, my national-security team has already begun extensive briefings." 

"I expect the debate to be robust, and that's how it should be; it's an important issue," he added. "Our national-security policies are stronger and more effective when subject to the scrutiny and transparency that democracy demands." 

"The details of this deal matter very much," he noted. "That's why our team worked so hard for so long to get the details right."

Obama urged the debate not to "lose sight of the larger picture," including "the fundamental choice that this deal represents." 

He further insisted that the plan severely hinders Iran's nuclear program.

"Without a deal, those pathways remain open," he said. "There would be no limits to Iran's nuclear program and Iran could move closer to a nuclear bomb." 

The terms include "the most comprehensive and intrusive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated" for Iran's nuclear facilities, he added. "Without the deal, those inspections go away." 

The President also noted that Iran will face "real consequences" in the event the deal is broken, including the fact that sanctions will "snap back into place." 

"Without a deal, the international sanctions regime will unravel," he added. 

"With this deal, we have the possibility of peacefully resolving a major threat to national and international security. Without a deal, we risk even more war in the Middle East, and other countries in the region will feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear programs, threatening a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world." 

America's reservations

"Even with this deal, we will continue to have profound differences with Iran," he said. "Its support of terrorism, its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East - therefore a multilateral arms embargo on Iran will remain for five years, and restrictions on ballistic missile technology will remain for eight years." 

"The US will maintain its own sanctions on Iran," he said, noting Washington's objections to "its ballistic missile program, its human rights violations, and we will continue our unprecedented security cooperation with Israel and continue to deepen our partnerships with the Gulf states." 

"But the bottom line is this: This nuclear deal meets the national security interests of the US and her allies. It prevents the most serious threat of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would make the other problems that Iran may cause even worse."

"That's why this deal makes our country and the world safer and more secure." 

The President warned that "future generations will judge us harshly" if the US does not "choose wisely" about how it approaches the Iranian nuclear program, i.e. if Congress successfully vetoes the move. He acknowledged, however, that the implementation would take "many years of hard work [...] vigilance and execution." 

Obama concluded by saying that the deal is a "lifetime opportunity" and that he wishes to seize it. 

Deal to 'incentivize' Iran

During Q&A with reporters at the conference, Obama assured that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon has created a "global consensus." 

"This has been a Democratic priority, this has been a Republican priority, this has been Prime Minister Netanyahu's priority," he said.

Regarding the US-Iran situation in general, “unlike the Cuba situation, we’re not normalizing diplomatic relations here.”

However, he said, his "hope is that building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative [...] but we're not counting on it."

He added that it would be easier to "check on Iran's nefarious activities" if they are not armed with nuclear weapons, even if the deal is "not contingent" on Iran "behaving like a liberal democracy." 

'Legitimate concerns'

As for the agreement itself, "my hope is that everyone in Congress evaluates this agreement based on the facts," he said. "Not on politics, not on posturing, not based on the fact that I'm presenting this agreement instead of a Republican candidate, not based on lobbying, but based on the national-security interests of the United States of America." 

He qualified that he does not expect "the Republican party to rally behind this agreement," and that "there are legitimate concerns here." 

"Israel has legitimate concerns about its security relative to Iran," he admitted. "When you have a large country with a significant military that has proclaimed that Israel shouldn't exist, that has denied the Holocaust, that has financed Hezbollah, and as a consequence, you have missiles pointed toward Tel Aviv - and so I think that there are very good reasons why Israelis are nervous about Iran's position in the world generally." 

"For all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu [...] none of them have presented to me, or the American people, a better alternative." 

Deflecting criticism

Obama also addressed criticism of the agreement, saying that those who argue that a deal should also solve other issues such as terrorism and human rights "defy logic" and "loses sight" of priorities. 

When asked about whether praise for the deal by Islamists in Iran and by Syrian President Bashar Assad "give him pause," he responded in the negative. He called both responses a "spin" to what "they think their constituencies want to hear." 

"That's what politicians do," he dismissed. 

“The suggestion among a lot of the critics is that a better deal is one in which Iran has no nuclear capacity at all… the problem with that position is that there’s no one who thinks Iran would or could accept that.”