Obama: Iran deal a 'once in a lifetime opportunity'

Obama: Iran deal a 'once in a lifetime opportunity'
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President Obama is making an aggressive sales pitch for the preliminary nuclear agreement with Iran, calling it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon while offering a chance to change the Middle East.

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In an interview published late Sunday in The New York Times, the president addressed critics of the deal in Congress and in Israel who say the U.S. and other world powers conceded too much when it allowed Iran to maintain much of its nuclear infrastructure.

"This is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon," Obama said. "What we will be doing even as we enter into this deal is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there."

The Obama administration is launching a major push to make its case for the Iran deal, aiming to convince Congress to hold off on legislation that could kill the deal and assuaging allies, such as Israel and Gulf Arab states.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the deal in a trio of Sunday talk show appearances, calling it "a dream deal for Iran and it’s a nightmare deal for the world."

Obama said it has been "personally difficult" to hear accusations that he is anti-Israel because of his disagreements with Netanyahu over Iran and other issues.

"There has to be the ability for me to disagree with a policy on settlements, for example, without being viewed as ... opposing Israel," Obama said.

The president said he has "respect" for the concerns of Israelis that a deal could leave the country more vulnerable to an aggressive Iran. But he said he is committed to making sure Israel maintains a military edge over Iran.

"What I would say to them is that not only am I absolutely committed to making sure that they maintain their qualitative military edge, and that they can deter any potential future attacks," Obama said. "But what I’m willing to do is to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them."

Addressing the Israeli people, Obama said "there is no formula, there is no option, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that will be more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we put forward — and that’s demonstrable.”

Negotiators have until June 30 to reach a final agreement. Many key details need to be resolved, such as the pace of sanctions relief and the scope of nuclear inspections.

Obama and other top administration officials have lobbied members of Congress to drop legislation that would give lawmakers 60 days to review and approve an Iran deal. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote on the bill next week.

The president called committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (R-Tenn.) a "good and decent man" who is "sincerely concerned about this issue." He said he was open to a non-binding congressional vote on the deal.

"My hope is that we can find something that allows Congress to express itself but does not encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives — and ensures that, if in fact we get a good deal, that we can go ahead and implement it," he said.

Corker said Sunday that any deal should have to go through Congress.

“The American people want someone to tease out all the details of this deal,” Corker said on “Fox News Sunday.” “They understand this is one of the most important geopolitical deals of this decade. Congress needs to play a role.”

Obama also detailed his philosophy of establishing relations with longtime adversaries in countries like Iran, Burma and Cuba. The president said the U.S. is powerful enough to attempt to engage with those regimes in an effort to advance American interests without putting the nation at risk.

"If it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies," Obama said. "The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us."

The president said even if Iran does change some of its controversial policies, the deal is still a good one.

"In fact, you could argue that if they are implacably opposed to us, all the more reason for us to want to have a deal in which we know what they’re doing and that, for a long period of time, we can prevent them from having a nuclear weapon," he said.