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Obama pitches Iran nuclear pact: ‘contact your representatives’

President Barack Obama countered critics of the Iran nuclear deal in a speech at American University in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 5.

President Barack Obama used a speech at American University on Wednesday to try to debunk arguments against the Iran nuclear deal, telling Americans to “contact your representatives in Congress” to get it passed.

Years of diplomatic wrangling culminated in a breakthrough in mid-July when Iran and six world powers reached an agreement aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The U.N. Security Council endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on July 20.

The Iran package faces some opposition in Congress, which has a deadline of Sept. 17 to approve or reject it. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., introduced legislation this week to disapprove the pact. “This deal gives up too much, too fast, to a terrorist state — making the world less safe, less secure and less stable,” he said.

If lawmakers vote to reject the deal, President Obama said he would veto the result. A two-thirds vote in Congress would be needed to undo his veto.

The president said in the nearly hour-long speech on Wednesday that the agreement is the best way to ensure Iran is incapable of pursuing a nuclear weapon, short of going to war.

“Congressional rejection of this deal leaves any U.S. administration that is absolutely committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon with one option – another war in the Middle East,” he said. “Without this deal, Iran would be in a position however tough our rhetoric might be to steadily advance its capabilities.”

Echoing one of the key complaints that the United States should hold out for a better deal, he added: “Walk away from this agreement and you will get a better deal — for Iran.”

President Obama responded to some of the other criticisms, including:

  • Inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities are not strong enough because inspectors can’t go in without notice. He said inspectors would be allowed daily access and if Iran disputes entry, which can take up to 24 days to resolve, the site can still be monitored until inspectors are allowed inside. “If Iran cheats, we can catch them and we will,” he said.
  • The agreement only lasts 15 years. The president clarified that the restrictions on Iran’s peaceful nuclear program last 15 years, but the prohibition on Iran having a nuclear weapon, the ban on its weapons-related research, and the site inspections are permanent. “If 15 or 20 years from now Iran tries to build a bomb, this deal ensures that the United States will have better tools to detect it … and the same options available to stop a weapons program that we have today including, if necessary, military options,” he said.
  • Iran will get billions of dollars in sanctions relief. The whole point of the international sanctions was to get Iran to agree to constraints on its nuclear program, said Mr. Obama. Yes, some unfrozen money will “flow to activities that we object to,” but it also will benefit Iranians’ daily lives, he said. Iran has always found a way to fund terrorist organizations and proxy groups, including those who killed U.S. troops in Iraq, but those actions pale in comparison to what a nuclear weapon-armed Iran could do, he said.
  • The Israeli government’s disagreement. The president said with U.S. support, Israel can defend itself from Iran and its proxies, but a nuclear-armed Iran “would change that equation.” He addressed Israel and its supporters directly: “A nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief.”

Since World War II, the United States has prided itself in building coalitions to defend the international system of law, he said. “If Congress kills this deal, we will lose more than just constraints on Iran’s nuclear program or the sanctions we have painstakingly built. We would have lost something more precious, America’s credibility as a leader of diplomacy.”

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