SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – President Barack Obama took on critics of a newly brokered nuclear deal with Iran yesterday by saying their tough talk was good for politics but not for US security.
Top Republicans – as well as US ally Israel – have criticized Obama for agreeing to the deal, which the United States and its partners say may ultimately prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
Under the interim deal, Iran will accept restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions that have gradually crippled its economy and slashed its oil exports.
Sunday’s agreement, hammered out in marathon talks between six major powers and Iran in Geneva, aims to buy time to negotiate a comprehensive deal that the Obama administration hopes will lay to rest international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
It was widely praised in Iran and the region.
Israel, however, has argued that a partial deal is a bad deal and that easing sanctions, even temporarily, decreases the leverage that the United States and others have over Iran.
Obama, who has long been criticized for his desire to engage with US foes, took heat as a presidential candidate in 2008 for saying he would talk to Iran, which has not had diplomatic relations with Washington for more than three decades.
Yesterday, however, he alluded to those foreign policy goals during remarks that were otherwise focused on immigration reform. He noted that he had ended the war in Iraq and would end the war in Afghanistan next year, two things he also pledged to do as a candidate.
“When I first ran for president I said it was time for a new era of American leadership in the world, one that turned the page on a decade of war and began a new era of our engagement with the world,” he said during a visit to San Francisco.
“As president and as commander in chief, I’ve done what I said.”
Though the agreement forged in Geneva over the weekend is a first step, the White House sees it as a form of vindication for policies that Obama espoused long before he won the White House.
If Tehran follows through on its part of the pact, Obama said, it would chip away at years of mistrust between the two countries.
To his critics, Obama was especially direct.
“Huge challenges remain, but we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems. We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict,” he said.
“Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.”
The accord was met with deep skepticism from some members of Congress, including Democrats, who tend to be more hawkish about Iran than Obama’s administration.
A number of lawmakers, especially Republicans, insisted they would try to enact stiffer new sanctions despite the deal.
Pro-Israel lobbyists had been pushing American lawmakers hard to keep to a tough line on Tehran. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee issued a memo to supporters yesterday raising doubts about many terms of the interim agreement, including that it allows Iran to continue uranium enrichment.