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Obama administration promotes Iran pact, bracing for fight

In the wake of the announcement of a nuclear agreement with Iran, President Obama used an extended session with the White House Press Corps to make his case. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden went to the Capitol to begin discussing the deal with lawmakers. Gwen Ifill reports on the efforts to persuade Congress and the American public.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The administration went all out today to sell the freshly-signed Iran nuclear agreement to Congress and to the American public. President Obama led the offensive, appearing at a White House news conference that lasted more than an hour. And when he didn't get the questions he wanted, he asked them himself.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    I really am enjoying this Iran debate.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    With the ink on the deal barely dry, the president used an extended session with the White House press corps to make his case.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    I can say with confidence, but more importantly nuclear experts can say with confidence that Iran will not be in a position to develop a nuclear bomb. We will have met our number one priority.

    And my hope is that building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile. But we're not counting on it.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Hours earlier, the Iranian negotiating team returned to Tehran, triumphant.

    ALI AKBAR SALEHI, Head of Atomic Energy Organization, Iran (through interpreter): Thanks to God, the enrichment of uranium, the main part of our nuclear activities, has been recognized. This is a big thing. The nuclear activism of Iran will not be decreased, but will be increased.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But that sort of rhetorical victory lap has enraged critics of the deal, especially in Israel, where the government's point man on nuclear matters mocked the U.S.-led coalition that negotiated it.

  • YUVAL STEINITZ, Israeli Energy Minister:

    Like the beautiful story of the new emperor's clothes, Israel is the little child that is pointing its finger and saying the king is naked. This agreement is naked.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    At the White House today, the president took all such charges head on.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    You'll hear some critics say, "Well, we could have negotiated a better deal." OK. What does that mean?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I think the suggestion among a lot of the critics has been that a — a better deal, an acceptable deal would be one in which Iran has no nuclear capacity at all, peaceful or otherwise. He argued that completely denying Iran nuclear capacity was never possible, and he again framed the debate as a choice between this deal or the prospect of war.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    I challenge those who are objecting to this agreement, number one to read the agreement before they comment on it, number two to explain specifically where it is that they think this agreement does not prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and why they're right, and then present an alternative.

    And if the alternative is that we should bring Iran to heel through military force, then those critics should say so.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But he was asked, what if Iran cheats? What would the U.S. and its allies do then?

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    Now, one of the advantages of having inspections across the entire production chain is that it makes it very difficult to set up a covert program.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You know, there are only so many uranium mines in Iran. And if in fact we're counting the amount of uranium that's being mined, and suddenly some is missing on the back end, they got some 'splaining to do. But Mr. Obama was visibly annoyed when reporter Major Garrett of CBS suggested he was content to leave four Americans held hostage in Iran out of the deal.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    The notion that I'm content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that's — that's nonsense, and you should know better.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes, you know what? Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals. The president also faces skepticism in Congress. And, today, Vice President Biden went to the Capitol to begin selling the deal, especially to House Democrats.

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