President Obama on Thursday hailed as “historic” a framework deal with Iran that he said was the best way to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The United States, Iran and five other world powers reached a preliminary agreement that would lift international sanctions on Iran in exchange for new limitations on its nuclear program.
The president said the agreement would “cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.”
If the parties can reach a final deal by a June 30 deadline, it would be a major foreign-policy victory for Obama, who has shown a willingness to engage with the United States’ biggest adversaries.
But the negotiations have come under heavy criticism from members of Congress in both political parties and Iran’s enemies in the region, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Obama immediately began a sales job focused on winning over Congress, U.S. allies, and the American public.
The White House has long said a sanctions bill would kill the talks, which will continue for another three months.
“If Congress kills this deal … then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed doubt the framework would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“It would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region,” he said in a statement.
He said Congress should be allowed to review details of the agreement before any sanctions are lifted.
Obama said his negotiating team would “fully” brief Congress and the public on the framework deal and that he would speak on Thursday with House and Senate leaders. He said he is “confident” Congress and the public will be convinced it is a good deal.
He framed the issue as a choice between a diplomatic solution and bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and triggering another war in the Middle East.
“Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it,” Obama said. “That’s not how the world works.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday blasted the deal for allowing too many concessions to the Iranians. His opposition — Netanyahu gave a forceful address to a joint session of Congress in March objecting to the talks — raised pressure on lawmakers to oppose Obama's diplomacy.
Democrats in the Senate sympathetic to Israel's views have so far withheld support for a vote on sanctions. For Obama, convincing them to continue to hold off will be key in the coming weeks and months.
Under the tentative deal, Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium would be restricted for a decade. It would be forced to dismantle two thirds of its 19,000 existing centrifuges and convert an underground enrichment facility at Fordow to a research-only site.
Tehran would have to submit to inspections of its nuclear sites and supply chain from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Sanctions would only be lifted after inspectors verify Iran is following the deal.
“If Iran cheats, the world will know it,” Obama said. “If we see anything suspicious, we will inspect it.”
The Obama administration said the deal was crafted to reduce the breakout time it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon from two to three months, to at least one year. The one-year breakout time period would last for 10 years under the deal, the administration said.
Obama said that U.S. sanctions would be gradually “phased” out, but to do so will require action by Congress.
The president has the authority to waive some sanctions on his own, but Congress would have to act to lift all penalties related to Iran’s nuclear program. Sanctions tied to Iran’s support for terrorism would remain in place, Obama said.
The president challenged congressional critics to evaluate the deal based on the “facts.”
“The issues at stake here are bigger than politics,” Obama said. “They are matters of war and peace.”
Updated at 4:16 p.m.