By Erik Wasson - 12/07/13 02:15 PM EST
Obama: Final Iran deal a 50-50 proposition
President Obama said Saturday that the chances of a permanent nuclear deal with Iran are at best no more than even odds, but that diplomacy still must be pursued.
“I wouldn't say that it is more than 50-50 but we have to try,” Obama said at a Brookings Institution event.
While some in Congress are trying to move tougher unilateral sanctions now, Obama urged restraint. He said that if Iran fails to meet its commitments under the temporary deal, the U.S. will be in a stronger position to seek more effective international sanctions after six months.
The president explained at length his rational for forging a temporary deal with Iran last month that lifts some sanctions in return for Iran taking specific steps to reduce its ability to make a nuclear weapon.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the deal a “historic mistake" and Obama acknowledged that in private he and the Israeli leader have "significant tactical disagreements" on occasion.
“What we do have to test is the possibility that we can resolve this diplomatically,” Obama said, adding that if diplomacy fails, military air strikes remain on the table as an option to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Obama said that he assumes Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani is not trustworthy and that is why verification is built into the temporary deal. He said that it would be wrong to ignore evidence that the Iranian people want to engage more constructively with the West than has been the case.
“Wherever we see the impulses of a people to move away from conflict, violence...we should be ready and prepared to engage them...understanding it is not what you say, it is what you do,” he said.
The president said Israel and Iran skeptics need to be realistic in their expectation and compared a complete surrender by Iran to a purely theoretically idea, like Congress passing all of Obama's proposals.
“There are a lot of things I can envision that would be wonderful,” Obama joked.
He said that even the most moderate Iranian politicians would be politically unable “to say we will cave and do exactly what the U.S. and Israel want,” and instead must be given a “dignified resolution to this issue” that allows them to save face.
Iran has claimed the deal already agreed to preserve its “right to enrich” uranium for peaceful means, but the president said that if negotiations fail, no such right has been established so far.