Obama’s Iran deal challenge: Signed, but not sold

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jul 16, 2015 00:20 IST
Foreign ministers of P5 +1 pose for a group photo after the last plenary session at the United Nations building in Vienna on Tuesday. Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal on Tuesday. (Reuters Photo)

President Barack Obama on Wednesday launched a spirited defense of the Iran deal, dealing saying it “is our best means of assuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon”.

The deal, announced Tuesday, cuts off every pathway Iraq had to a nuclear weapon and affords the West “unprecedented round-the-clock” monitoring of its nuclear facilities.

“This deal makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure,” Obama said at a news conference addressing questions on the Iran deal, eager to answer every objection raised yet.

Obama hung back to take more questions after finishing off the list of reporters he was scheduled to take questions from.

“This is the most vigorous inspection and verification regime by far that has ever been negotiated,” the president said, asking for argument’s sake what were the alternatives.

Obama said he would the like issue debated on facts, but conceded that in Washington DC politics will indeed colour the debate as it has already.

Selling the Iran deal to critics and skeptics at home here in the US is going to be just as difficult for him as signing it after months of tortuous negotiations. If not more.

Republicans, for instance, have vowed to kill it. They have complete control of both chambers of US Congress, and they can make it extremely difficult for the president.

House of Representatives speaker John Boehner said on Tuesday that “if in fact it’s as bad a deal as I think it is at this moment, we’ll do everything we can to stop it.”

The powerful pro-Israel lobby doesn’t like the deal as well and it can complicate the president’s task even further, because its influence and clout cuts across party lines.

The AIPAC, which leads that lobby, has said it is “deeply concerned” that the agreement may not meet the five requirements it had listed for it be called a good deal.

Republican presidential candidates have opposed it too. “Said it yesterday, will say it again – this deal has legitimized Iran being a nuclear threshold country,” Jeb Bush tweeted.

Conscious of the continued opposition of the deal, based primarily on deep-seated suspicion of Iran, the administration has launched a massive outreach, with Obama front and centre.

Obama told Thomas Friedman of the The New York Times: “I think that criticism (that the US failed to use all its leverage including threat of force) is misguided.”

“We have cut off every pathway for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon … (the) whole system that we built is not based on trust; it’s based on a verifiable mechanism.”

All efforts to stop or kill the deal will now be focussed on congress, which armed itself with an Act earlier this year to review the agreement and block crucial portions of it.

The agreement doesn’t need congress’s approval or ratification, but lawmakers can vote to disapprove it and block the lifting of sanctions legislated by them; and that’s crucial to Iran.

President Obama can, of course, veto any such bill passed by congress. In which case congress will have to garner the support of two thirds of the members to override him.

For that to happen, Democrats will have to abandon their president’s legacy foreign policy move in big numbers in both chambers, and that is looking unlikely as of now.

Congress will get 60 days to review the deal and act.

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