Israel’s security is “sacrosanct” to Washington, US President Barack Obama said in an interview to CNN aired Sunday, as he pledged to overcome American political opposition to the recently struck deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
“I don’t intend to lose on this,” he said, referring to the battle between the administration and a Republican-dominated Congress over the Iran deal.
The president also repeated his stance that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “wrong” about the nuclear deal with Iran and has failed to offer any viable alternatives.
Opponents to the nuclear agreement — including Netanyahu, Congressional Republicans and some Democrats — have presented no “plausible alternative[s] to Iran attaining a nuclear weapon other than military strikes,” Obama said.
Much of the opposition to the Iran deal stems from ignorance to the substance of agreement, he said, because “people haven’t been getting all the information.”
“If you look at the merits of the deal, you will conclude that it will cut off a pathway from Iran to a nuclear weapons,” the president argued.
He dismissed criticism of the nuclear deal, and sought to reassure Israelis that it ensured their long-term security as well. “If Israel were attacked by Iran, I have no doubt we would do everything we needed to do to ensure Israel is protected,” Obama said.
“I’ve acted on the basic notion that our commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct,” Obama said, adding that the relationship between Israel and the US remains “deep and profound” despite the increasingly public disagreement between Netanyahu and himself over the deal reached last month between world powers and Iran.
“I can understand why the Israeli public is suspicious and cautious about the deal,” the president said, adding that the accord was “very good” for Israel despite Netanyahu’s opposition.
“I’ve asked Netanyahu to present me with a reasonable realistic plan to achieve exactly what this deal achieves, and we have yet to achieve a response,” Obama said.
“On the substance, the prime minister is wrong on this [deal],” Obama said. “I think that I can show that the basic assumptions that he’s made are incorrect.”
“If in fact my argument is right, that this is the best way for Iran not to get a nuclear weapon, then that’s not just good for the United States. That is very good for Israel,” he said.
“If Iran does abide by the deal, then we have purchased — at a very small price — one of the single most important national security objectives we and Israel have.”
‘Consensus to enrich’
Asked why he hadn’t insisted that Iran give up all uranium enrichment as part of the agreement — a demand Netanyahu stood by until earlier this year — the president said, “You have a consensus in Iran that they should have the right to enrich.”
Furthermore, “we did not have the support for that position among our global allies,” Obama told CNN interviewer Fareed Zakaria. “In the real world, the alternatives you just described were not available.”
Obama’s interview was the latest in a media blitz by the president to drum up support in Congress for the deal. American lawmakers have until the end of September to vote on whether they approve or disapprove, the agreement world powers and Tehran reached after years of negotiation.
Reiterating remarks he made in the past week in a speech at American University, Obama drew parallels between US domestic opponents to the the deal and Iran’s hardliners who also oppose the deal, stating that US opponents have an “ideological commitment” to stop an agreement.
When Zakaria put it to Obama that Netanyahu has “injected himself forcefully” into the debate in Washington over the deal, Obama said, “right.”
Asked whether this was appropriate, the president responded: “I’ll let you ask Prime Minister Netanyahu that question if he gives you an interview,” then added: “I don’t recall a similar example.”
“We’ve provided more military assistance to Israel than any other previous administration,” he noted.