Obama: Whole world has expressed support for Iran deal except for Israeli government
Former President John F. Kennedy delivered a major address at same venue in 1963 proposing diplomacy and joint denuclearization with the Soviet Union.
WASHINGTON – War is the inevitable consequence of Congress rejecting the Iran nuclear accord, US President Barack Obama stated on Wednesday, in an address billed by the White House as a signature speech defending his chief foreign policy achievement.
The address, delivered at American University in honor of a 1963 speech delivered there by John F. Kennedy outlining his pursuit of diplomacy with the Soviet Union, was a fervent defense of the accord against critics he described as partisan and discredited.
Obama tied opponents of the agreement to the architects and supporters of the Iraq War in 2003.
“It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy,” he said. And “more than a decade later, we still live with the consequences of the decision to invade Iraq.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported that war, he pointed out on Tuesday evening in a small, private meeting with leaders from the American Jewish community.
Several of those figures raised the concern that comparisons of the two situations reinforce an old canard: That Jews were partly responsible for the invasion of Baghdad, and lobbied for it in Washington.
In that meeting, Obama said he would be mindful of the sensitivity of the linkage.
And indeed, in his speech, he vacillated between casting his critics as posturing politicians and those with sincere concerns over the behavior of the Islamic Republic.
“No one can blame Israelis for having a deep skepticism about any dealings with a government like Iran’s,” he said, “which includes leaders who deny the Holocaust, embrace and ideology of anti-Semitism, facilitate the flow of rockets that are rained on Israel’s borders.”
Yet “it would be the abdication of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally,” the president continued. “I do not believe it would be the right thing to do for the United States or the right thing to do for Israel.”
Israel is the sole state that stands publicly opposed to the deal, he asserted. And indeed, several Gulf nations and Saudi Arabia have voiced cautious endorsement of the pact in recent days, despite well-documented, private misgivings, accounted for by members of the press, Congress and the Obama administration itself.
“Because this is such a strong deal,” Obama said, “every nation in the world that has commented publicly – with the exception of the Israeli government – has expressed support.”
Several of the largest pro-Israel groups are working fervently against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran deal is formally known. Those groups include the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as well as the American Jewish Committee, which announced its “overwhelming” opposition in a statement on Wednesday.
“There are too many risks, concerns, and ambiguities for us to lend our support,” said David Harris, AJC’s executive director. “By abandoning the earlier negotiating posture of dismantling sanctions in exchange for Iranian dismantlement of its nuclear infrastructure, and instead replacing it with what is essentially a temporary freeze on its program, the P5+1 has indeed validated Iran’s future status as a nuclear threshold state, a point that President Obama himself acknowledged in a media interview.”
The president, however, said that the deal is not just the best option out of a series of bad ones – but rather, the best deal ever negotiated on the issue of nuclear weapons.
“This is the strongest non-proliferation agreement ever negotiated,” he charged.
And abandoning it, he said, leaves the US with no “fantasy” alternative of a “better deal” yet to be negotiated.
“Congressional rejection of this deal leaves one option,” he said. “Let’s not mince words – the choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war.”
Members of Congress are facing that choice, preparing for a consequential vote in September on whether or not they approve or disapprove of the agreement. The Republican caucus is united in its opposition to the deal, thus making the fight over Democrats – a plurality of whom remain undeclared on the matter.
In the speech, Obama asked the American people to call their members of Congress and register their support for the agreement. For Congress to kill the deal, two thirds of both the Senate and House of Representatives would have to disapprove of the measure over the course of two distinct votes.
“It is particularly galling to hear the president try to defend his nuclear agreement with Iran by claiming that its critics also supported the war in Iraq,” senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and John McCain (R-Arizona) said in a joint statement after the speech. Both lawmakers oppose the agreement.
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