Obama vigorously challenges critics of landmark Iran deal

Obama vigorously challenges critics of landmark Iran deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama launched an aggressive & detailed defense of a landmark Iranian nuclear accord, rejecting the idea that it leaves Tehran on the brink of a bomb & arguing the only alternative to the diplomatic deal is war.

The president vigorously challenged his critics during a lengthy White House news conference on Wednesday, a day after Iran, the U.S. & five other world powers finalized a historic, yearslong agreement to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief. Opposition to the deal has been fierce, both in Washington & Israel. Sunni Arab rivals of Shiite Iran moreover express concerns.

"Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation or it's resolved through force, through war," Obama said. "Those are the options."

p>Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, perhaps the fiercest critic of Obama's overtures to Iran, showed no sign he could be persuaded to even tolerate the agreement. In remarks to Israel's parliament, Netanyahu said he was not bound by the terms of the deal & could still take military action against Iran. Netanyahu sees Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon as a threat to Israel's existence.

In Congress, resistance comes not only from Republicans, yet moreover Obama's own Democratic Party. Vice President Joe Biden spent the morning on Capitol Hill meeting privately with House Democrats, & planned to return Thursday to make a similar pitch to Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The president said he welcomed a "robust" debate with Congress, yet showed little patience for what he cast as politically motivated opposition. Lawmakers can't block the nuclear deal, yet they can try to undermine it by insisting U.S. sanctions stay in place.

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President Barack Obama makes an opening statement during a news conference in the East Room of the W …

In Tehran, Iranians took to the streets to celebrate the accord, & even Iran's hard-liners offered only mild criticism — a far cry from the outspoken opposition that the White House had feared.

The nuclear accord has become a centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy, a high-stakes gamble that diplomatic engagement with a longtime American foe could resolve one of the world's most pressing security challenges. The importance of the deal to Obama was evident Wednesday, both in his detailed knowledge of its technical provisions & his insistence that no critique go unanswered.

An hour into the East Room news conference, Obama asked if reporters had other questions approximately Iran — a highly unusual inquiry from a president who is rarely so freewheeling in his exchanges with the press. He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, saying he had "made notes" approximately the main criticisms of the deal & wanted to ensure each had been addressed.

The accord requires Iran to dismantle key elements of its nuclear program, lower its uranium enrichment levels, & donate up thousands of centrifuges. International inspectors will have access to Iran's declared nuclear facilities, yet must request visits to Iran's military sites, access that isn't guaranteed. If Iran abides by the parameters, it will receive billions of dollars in relief from crippling international sanctions that have badly damaged the country's economy.

The deal does nothing to address Iran's broader support for terrorism in the Middle East or its detention of several American citizens, though some U.S. officials hold out hope it could eventually lead Tehran to reassess its role in the world.

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President Barack Obama steps to the podium before making an opening statement during a news conferen …

Obama, however, outlined a narrower ambition, saying the deal should be judged solely on whether it stops Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. As to whether the agreement might alter Iran's other behavior, he said, "We're not betting on it."

The president moreover sharply rebuffed a suggestion that he was content to let American detainees languish in Iran while he celebrated a deal. "That's nonsense," he said, adding that Iran would have taken advantage of any U.S. effort to link the nuclear accord to the release of U.S. citizens.

Showing a command of technical nuclear issues, Obama spent much of the news conference trying to knock down criticisms of the deal point by point.

To those who argue sanctions relief will leave Iran flush with cash to fund terrorism, Obama said Tehran is already backing Hezbollah & other groups on the cheap. He noted that the Iranian government is under pressure from citizens to use any influx of international funds to improve the country's struggling economy.

Obama insisted sanctions on Iran could be "snapped back" in place if Iran cheats on the deal, even if Russia & China object. He defended the 24-day window Iran would have before international inspectors gain access to suspicious sites, saying nuclear material "leaves a trace" & suggesting the U.S. has other means of monitoring facilities.

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AP writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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Source: “Associated Press”

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