Obama defends interim Iran deal, seeks to assure Israel

WASHINGTON Sat Dec 7, 2013 6:42pm EST

1 of 3. U.S. President Barack Obama (L) speaks with Israeli-American media tycoon Haim Saban in front of a live audience about negotiations with Iran in Washington December 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/James Lawler Duggan

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday defended an interim deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program and, seeking to reassure Israel, pledged to step up sanctions or prepare for a potential military strike if Tehran fails to abide by the pact.

U.S. relations with Israel have been strained by the interim agreement, reached between Iran and major world powers including the United States, which was designed to halt advances in Iran's nuclear program and buy time for negotiations on a final settlement.

The United States says the agreement will give the international community time to see if Tehran is serious about curbing its nuclear ambitions, while providing some relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Israel believes any sanctions relief is a dangerous gift to a country that threatens its very existence, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the deal reached in Geneva a "historic mistake."

Obama, speaking at forum hosted by Haim Saban, a major political donor, made a point of referring to Netanyahu as "my friend Bibi," while acknowledging they occasionally had "significant tactical" disagreements.

Obama said the interim deal, negotiated with Iran by the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, would provide space for a longer-ranging agreement to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, which Tehran says are peaceful.

The president said he viewed the likelihood of a satisfactory "end state" as a 50/50 proposition, and repeated that all options remained on the table if Iran did not follow through with its obligations.

"If we cannot get the kind of comprehensive end state that satisfies us and the world community ... then the pressure that we've been applying on them and the options that I have made clear I can avail myself of, including a military option, is one that we would consider and prepare for," he said.

Obama said it was unrealistic to believe that Iran would halt and dismantle its nuclear program if the sanctions regime were strengthened and talks were not given a chance to succeed.

"One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, 'We'll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it's all gone.' I can envision a world which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward. I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful," he said to laughter from the audience.

"But precisely because we don't trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves: What puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran's not having a nuclear weapon ... what is required to accomplish that and how does that compare to other options that we might take?"

BACK AND FORTH WITH ISRAEL

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, in reaction to Obama's remarks, said the two countries needed to resolve their differences on the issue.

"It must be made clear: In the final agreement, Iran must not have the capability to produce nuclear weapons. In order to ensure this, Iran must not have any capability to enrich uranium or to produce plutonium," Steinitz said.

Obama suggested any enrichment capacity left in Iran would be limited.

"It is my strong belief that we can envision an end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity," he said.

The United States says it will confer closely with Israel about crafting a permanent Iran agreement after the six-month confidence-building period laid out by the Geneva deal.

While pursuing that path, Washington has sought to reinforce its commitment to protecting Israel.

"We will not abide by any threats to our friends and allies in the region, and we've made that perfectly clear. And our commitment to Israel's security is sacrosanct," Obama said.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke at the forum later in the day, said disagreements with Iran would continue on issues including Tehran's support for Lebanese Hezbollah, which the United States deems a "terrorist" group, and for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"A comprehensive (nuclear) agreement wouldn't solve all our problems with Iran," Kerry said. "Whatever the outcome of the upcoming negotiations, Iran will still have much work to do."

MIDDLE EAST PEACE

Although the discussion at the Washington-based Brookings Institution focused primarily on Iran, Obama also touched on the Middle East peace process aimed at ending conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli and Palestinian officials resumed U.S.-brokered peace talks on July 29 after a nearly three-year hiatus. At the time, Kerry said the aim was to reach "a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months."

That in effect set the end of April 2014 as a deadline, although U.S. officials have said that was not hard and fast.

"I think it is possible over the next several months to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail but gets us to a point where everybody recognizes (it's) better to move forward than move backwards," Obama said.

In their remarks, both Obama and Kerry made clear that if a framework agreement were reached next year, there would still be more work to do.

Noting that he returned from his eighth trip this year to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Friday night, Kerry said wryly: "Now I am not a masochist. I am undertaking this because I believe in the possibilities."

Obama said the outlines of a potential peace agreement were clear and he left the door open for a pact that excluded the Gaza Strip, which is now controlled by Hamas Islamists opposed to peace moves by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank.

"If there is a model where young Palestinians in Gaza are looking and seeing that in the West Bank, Palestinians are able to live in dignity ... that's something that the young people of Gaza are going to want," Obama said.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Elvina Nawaguna, and Ori Lewis; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Peter Cooney)

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Comments (39)
IsraelSucks wrote:
When I think about what the Israeli’s have done to the people of Palestine, it makes me sick to see our flags displayed together.

Dec 07, 2013 3:58pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Iran’s current President, Hassan Rouhani, has stated and I quote, “The Beautiful Cry of Death to America Unites our Nation.” During his campaign earlier this year, he has repeatedly said and again I quote, “Saying Death to America is easy, we need to express Death to America with action.” Those were his exact words in an effort to get elected; however, I do not believe for one second all of a sudden he has changed his mind. Was he lying to the Iranian people to get elected or telling the truth. I feel that is how he feels about America; he’s a politician, need I say more. He is lying and has an ulterior motive.

The current speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani, has also voiced a hatred for the United States. He stated these exact words, “The time has come for the disappearance of the West from the Universe.” Several other leaders in the Iranian government has expressed similar statements.

The current leader of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization armed and supported by Iran recently stated, “Our hostility to The Great Satan America is Absolute, Death to America.” He further stated, Israel and America are the foremost enemy of Islam. The former President of Iran stated Israel must be wiped off the map. Iran is a country that has two current leaders that state, “We need to kill the Non Muslims and put them to the sword.” Iran is a country where anti-American demonstrations are the norm.

Russia and China are not too concerned because this fanatical country is not out to kill their innocent people; therefore, Russia and China do not have the same interest at stake in keeping the original sanctions. By easing sanctions, we just rewarded Iran with $800 billion and they are laughing all the way to the bank. Furthermore, there will be an influx of eastern countries like Russia and China doing business with Iran. If Iran is not trying to make nuclear weapons, why not just stick to the original agreement and all sanctions would be been removed; end of discussion.

Every inspector, not one single one will tell you otherwise, that Iran was being deceptive and prevented inspections from be completed. There was a good reason for that. The reports from the inspectors revealed they were not forthcoming and some inspectors out right said they felt they were hiding something. Although the vast majority of the world knew that including Obama. The Iranian government is deceitful and can’t be trusted. Just when the sanctions were starting to work, the sanctions are being eased. Why give in to the demands of a country that hates the West, supports terrorism, and is a threat to mankind. It baffles me why any government would agree to this with the exception of China and Russia who stand to benefit economically from the easing of the sanctions since Iran is where China and Russia buy oil from and plan on expanding business with Iran now that the sanctions are going to be eased bolstering their economy at our expense. If Iran showed hatred and wanted to kill the people of Russia and China, the original sanctions would still be in place and increased, not decreased. China and Russia are going to try very hard to make things as easy on Iran as possible due to the fact they will benefit.

It’s not like Iran doesn’t have oil, they have enough oil for 10 Iran’s. Iran has more oil than any country with the exception of just a few; therefore, they are not as dependent on nuclear energy like most of the entire world due to how much oil they have.

This deal will also strain US relationships with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and other countries who know the importance of standing our ground and not easing sanctions and by easing sanctions is rewarding a country for defying the original agreement. Expect those countries to want nuclear weapons as well and as a direct result, could possibly start a nuclear arms race in the middle east.

This deal shows we are weak and Iran won the battle by holding out, stalling and sweet talking in order to defy the original agreement. Money is also a factor because with a deal, crude oil goes down and the stock market goes up; however, no one will remember when Hezbollah gets a nuclear bomb compliments of Iran and a US city or Israel gets blown up. What’s to say Hezbollah won’t be running Iran in a year or two; it’s not out of the ordinary to think such a thing since they are gaining favor with each month that passes. The main reason for that is there hatred for Israel and America. The current President got elected for hateful comments toward America during his campaign and many Iranians feel he is betraying them. This also works in Hezbollah’s favor.
Our world just became a more dangerous place. Please call your congressman and urge them now is not the time to reward a country that supports terrorism and hates America.

Dec 07, 2013 4:02pm EST  --  Report as abuse
tmc wrote:
This is not what it appears to be. There are definitely hidden motives behind this. Perhaps someone with a lot of power wants to sell something banned. Maybe it is for the DNC to have a political feather in its cap. We’ll probably never know the truth. But it is NOT to actually negotiate Iran’s nuclear program.

Dec 07, 2013 4:12pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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