Brushing off criticism from a majority in Congress, President Barack Obama said Republicans are reflexively opposing the nuclear deal with Iran because his name is attached to it, as he continued his campaign to build support for the controversial deal.
Ahead of a looming congressional vote to try to derail the deal, Obama argued in several interviews released Monday that it should surprise nobody that Republicans were opposed to the deal en masse. He pointed to their resistance to his health care law and budget proposals as evidence that their recent hostility had nothing to do with the content of the nuclear deal.
“Unfortunately, a large portion of the Republican Party, if not a near unanimous portion of Republican representatives, are going to be opposed to anything that I do,” Obama told NPR News, adding that the judgments have often been based not on the merits, but “on their politics.”
Obama also said Iran must drop its anti-American and anti-Israel postures before it transitions into the international community.
“There’s going to have to be a transition inside of Iran, even if gradual, in which there’s a recognition that chanting ‘death to America’ or denying the Holocaust among its leaders or threatening Israel with destruction or, you know, providing arms to Hezbollah, which is on the terrorist list — that those things make Iran a pariah in the eyes of a large part of the world,” Obama said.
“And I can guarantee you that the moment the Iranian regime stopped engaging in that kind of rhetoric and that kind of behavior that Iran would just by virtue of its size, talent, resources, immediately rise in its influence and its power in the eyes of the world.”
With regard to Republican opposition to the deal, Obama said Ronald Reagan faced similar Republican criticism when he decided to talk to the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev.
“His conservative supporters wrote some really rough stuff about him as appeasing the evil empire,” Obama said, framing a very immediate Congressional fight in broader historic context.
That hasn’t always been the case. It was Republicans who in June drove legislation through Congress giving Obama expanded authority to negotiate trade deals with Europe and Asia — over the staunch opposition of much of Obama’s own Democratic Party. Many Republicans have also demonstrated a willingness to work with Obama on criminal justice reform and increasing funding to the military in excess of the budget caps put in place previously by both parties.
Yet with the vast majority of Congress opposed to the nuclear deal, Obama has been searching for ways to discredit the opposition — and to attract as much Democratic support as possible before Congress votes on the agreement roughly a month from now. Already the White House has conceded that Congress will likely pass legislation opposing the deal, which Obama will veto. Obama’s goal is to secure enough Democratic votes to prohibit Congress from overriding his veto.
So far, only 34 House of Representatives members out of a possible 435, all Democrats, have announced support, along with 16 Democratic senators, out of a potential 100. Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz on Monday became the latest to side with Obama. “There is no other alternative that achieves these results,” he said in a statement.
A notable blow to that effort came last week when New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is in line to be the top Democrat in the Senate, announced his opposition. Obama’s interviews were recorded prior to Schumer’s announcement, but were released Monday as the White House sought to keep the president’s voice in the debate during the August congressional recess.
“When this agreement is implemented and we’ve seen centrifuges coming out of facilities like Fordow and Natanz, and we’ve got inspectors on the ground and it becomes clear that Iran in fact is abiding by this agreement, then attitudes will change,” Obama told National Public Radio.
“People will recognize that, in fact, whatever parade of horribles was presented in opposition have not come true,” he added.
In a separate interview with online news site Mic, Obama shifted his focus to young people — including some in Iran and Israel who posed questions to the president via video. Asked by a 22-year-old woman in Iran why Obama had to hurt the Iranian people with harsh economic sanctions to get a deal, Obama said his hand was forced because his entreaties to Iran’s supreme leader went unrequited while the US caught Iran secretly enriching uranium at its Fordow facility.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have a better way of doing this,” Obama said. “What we had to do was to more severely enforce sanctions so that Iran had greater incentive to come to the table and negotiate.”
Obama said he did not oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “across the board.”
“On a whole range of issues, particularly with respect to Israel’s security, we’ve been with Israel every step of the way,” he said. “And even Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government would acknowledge that.”
Obama said Israeli concerns were legitimate.
“There is great suspicion of this deal among some of our closest allies, Israel in particular, but also some of the Gulf states, who have seen Iran’s actions — trying to destabilize their governments or sponsoring terrorist proxies,” the US leader said. “And what I’m convinced of is that this deal is a good deal even as we work with those allies to constrain Iranian actions in some of these other areas.”