Obama says Israeli interference in US affairs over Iran deal unprecedented

Amid fierce battle between White House and pro-Israel lobby for Congressional votes, president says he doesn’t recall a ‘similar example’ of outside intervention

US President Barack Obama speaks to CNN on August 7, 2015 about the Iranian nuclear deal. (Screenshot/CNN)
US President Barack Obama speaks to CNN on August 7, 2015 about the Iranian nuclear deal. (Screenshot/CNN)

US President Barack Obama said Israeli interference in internal US affairs ahead of a Congressional vote on the Iranian nuclear deal was unprecedented.

In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, an excerpt of which was published Saturday ahead of the full interview Sunday, Obama was asked if he thought it was “appropriate of a foreign head of government to inject himself into an American affair.”

The president responded that he would let Zakaria “ask Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that question if he gives you an interview,” before adding: “I don’t recall a similar example.”

In another excerpt, Obama said Netanyahu is flat wrong in asserting the deal won’t thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. “On the substance, the prime minister is wrong on this,” said Obama. “I can show that the basic assumptions he’s made on this are incorrect.” In fact, said the president, the deal is “very good for Israel.”

Israel has been a vociferous opponent of the deal, with Netanyahu arguing that it was a “historic mistake” that leaves Iran a nuclear threshold state. The pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is also vehemently opposed to the deal and last month kicked off a major lobbying push against the accord, flying hundreds of activists from around the country into Washington to press Congress members to oppose it.

Congress is expected to vote on the deal next month, and the battle has pitted the Obama administration against Israel and AIPAC, sparking concerns of a deepening rift between Washington and Jerusalem.

Faced with uniform Republican opposition, the administration has targeted Democrats, and 21 of the 188 House Democrats have announced their support while nine oppose the deal, including the two top Jewish Democrats — Chuck Schumer and Eliot Engel.

Schumer had been thought to be next in line for a top Democratic leadership position.

Obama has vowed to veto any Congressional rejection of the deal.

The president would then need at least 34 of the Senate’s 40 Democrats to vote in favor of the deal to avoid a veto-busting supermajority.

The White House has sharply criticized opponents of the deal, challenging them to present alternatives.

Obama gave an Iran policy speech last week at the American University in Washington in which he singled out Israel for its opposition to the deal and called Netanyahu’s objections to the accord “sincere” but “wrong.”

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