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Obama says improved relations with Iran are possible

OAK BLUFFS, Mass. — President Barack Obama says a constructive relationship with Iran could be a byproduct of the deal to limit its nuclear program, but it won’t happen immediately. If at all.

Obama told CNN in an interview airing Sunday that Iran’s “nuclear problem” must be dealt with first. He said the agreement reached last month by the U.S. and five other world powers to remove crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program achieves that goal “better than any alternative.”

Republican lawmakers largely disagree with the president’s assessment that the deal blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, as do some of Obama’s own Democrats.

Obama says resolving the Iranian nuclear issue makes it possible to open broader talks with Iran on other issues. He named Syria as an example.

“Is there the possibility that having begun conversations around this narrow issue that you start getting some broader discussions about Syria, for example, and the ability of all the parties involved to try to arrive at a political transition that keeps the country intact and does not further fuel the growth of ISIL and other terrorist organizations. I think that’s possible,” Obama said, referring to the Islamic State group by one of its acronyms. “But I don’t think it happens immediately.”

Obama was interviewed by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria last Thursday, hours before Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s leading Jewish Democrat, announced he would oppose the agreement. Congress is expected to vote in September on a measure disapproving the deal, which Obama has promised a swift veto. Lawmakers would then have to find enough votes to override the president.

The interview is set to air as Obama vacations on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard.

He was not expected to spend much, if any, time reaching out to lawmakers on the Iran nuclear deal while he is away from Washington. “I think most of the president’s time on Martha’s Vineyard will be spent with his family or on the golf course or a bit of both,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

In the interview, Obama did not answer directly when asked whether he would have to use military force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon if the deal falls through.

“I have a general policy on big issues like this not to anticipate failure,” Obama said. “And I’m not going to anticipate failure now because I think we have the better argument.”

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