Obama's five big arguments on Iran deal

Obama's five big arguments on Iran deal
© Getty Images

The Iran nuclear agreement is complete, but the debate over the deal has just begun. 

The White House has launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to sell the accord at home and abroad, where it faces deep skepticism from lawmakers and traditional U.S. allies.  

ADVERTISEMENT

Obama is looking to build enough support in Congress to sustain a veto of any resolution disapproving of the deal.

And he is seeking to reassure Israel and Arab states, who worry the agreement will embolden their top regional rival, Iran. 

Here are the arguments Obama is deploying to win support.

1. The only alternative is war with Iran

Obama has sought to frame the debate by arguing there are only two ways to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon: a diplomatic agreement or another war in the Middle East. 

“That’s the choice that we face,” he said at a news conference Wednesday. “If we don’t choose wisely, I believe future generations will judge us harshly for letting this moment slip away.”

Indeed, just three years ago, the possibility of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was very real. An attack could have sidetracked Iran’s nuclear program, but also escalated tensions in the region. 

Obama argues the deal, which curbs Iran’s nuclear program for at least 10 years, offers a more lasting solution while avoiding another conflict.

It’s a poignant argument to make for the president, who was elected in 2008 on a promise of winding down American wars in the region. 

But critics say Obama is setting up a false choice, and a better deal could have been reached.  

2. Opponents haven't offered a better alternative. 

Obama has challenged critics, who say the U.S. made too many concessions to Iran, to present a better alternative to the deal that was reached. 

Directing his comments at Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE, Obama said Wednesday that ”99 percent of the world community” agrees the deal shuts off Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb. 

“None of them have presented to me, or the American people, a better alternative,” he said. 

Opponents of the deal say that’s wrong: Obama just chose not to pursue another path. 

The Wall Street Journal editorial board argued Obama could have upped sanctions on Iran’s oil sector, increased assistance to its proxy opponents in the region — including Syrian rebels — and made a more credible threat of force to force Iran to accept tighter limits on its nuclear program.  

3. Sanctions won't last forever because Russia and China will back out.

Obama has forcefully disputed the suggestion he didn’t use all his leverage against Iran in the negotiations. 

He told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that if the U.S. demanded more or walked away from the agreement on the table, it would be impossible to sustain sanctions on Iran, let alone increase them.

U.S. allies, such as Japan and India, accepted financial hits due to the ban on Iranian oil sales. Russia and China, two U.S. negotiating partners, are eager to do business with Iran. 

That’s the main rationale the White House has used to defend its decision to lift a U.N. arms embargo on Iran in five to eight years, a significant concession to Tehran.

But that could make the deal more difficult to sell to members of Congress.  

“It’s hard for us to accept it, so we just want to take a look at it,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

4.  Despite limits, inspectors will have access to Iran’s nuclear sites. 

Under the deal, Iran will have 24 days to address concerns about sites suspected of nuclear activity and agree to inspections.

Critics of the deal say that’s a major loophole that could allow Iran to hide or destroy evidence of nuclear activity, preventing inspectors from verifying Tehran is abiding by restrictions. 

Netanyahu likened it to giving a drug dealer 24 days notice before a search. “That’s a lot of time to flush a lot of meth down the toilet,” he told NBC. 

Obama officials have expressed confidence Iran won’t be able to skirt international inspectors, saying they have multiple ways to detect nuclear activity. 

"They can't hide the evidence of that in any meaningful way in that kind of period of time. And you can't hide a facility of that size very easily for long," National Security Adviser Susan Rice told Reuters. 

5. Don’t judge the deal on whether Iran changes its behavior.

Critics aren’t just making a practical case against the deal, they’re making a moral one too. 

They argue the U.S. should not have negotiated with Iran, a country that funds terrorist groups, threatens Israel’s existence and coined the phrase “Death to America.”

That came to a head at Obama’s Wednesday’s press conference, when he chided CBS News’ Major Garrett for questioning the celebrations surrounding the deal at a time when four Americans remain detained or missing in Iran. 

Obama said the U.S. is doing all it can to bring those Americans home. But he said the deal should be judged on whether it prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and not Iran’s behavior. 

“This deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior,” he said. “It's not contingent on Iran suddenly operating like a liberal democracy.”