Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told PBS that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s impassioned address to a joint session of Congress about the Iran nuclear threat won’t damage President Obama’s efforts to strike a deal with the Islamic Republic.
“I mean the fact of the matter is the president said there’s nothing new because we have been hearing these arguments from Prime Minister Netanyahu privately and publicly for some time now. He’s made very clear his opposition to the type of deal that we’re pursuing,” Rhodes said.
“What we heard today was a lot of different arguments we’ve heard from different places from the prime minister pulled together in one space. As the president said, he made similar arguments before the joint plan of action was agreed over a year ago and that has actually borne out as a successful effort to halt the progress of Iran’s program and roll it back in certain elements.”
Rhodes said Netanyahu “has been clear about his view but we don’t think he’s putting forward an alternative that can deal with the issue of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as effectively as the type of deal that we’re negotiating.”
He said the administration remains adamant about not roping in the regime’s other behaviors — support for terrorism, support for Bashar al-Assad and Houthi rebels included — because “the nuclear challenge is distinct.”
“But the day after a deal is reached if we get an agreement, our concerns about other Iranian activities in the region will be exactly the same as they are today. We’ll be just as concerned about their support for terrorism, their support for Hezbollah, their destabilizing actions in the region as we are today,” he said. “But the fact is if you can verifiably ensure that they’re not able to get a nuclear weapon, we will be more secure and the region will be more secure.”
Asked why the Israeli government is so worried, Rhodes replied, “I think the prime minister has a longstanding view on Iran that takes a particular line that opposes this type of diplomatic agreement.”
“But the fact is the type of deal that he laid out today is one that is simply unattainable. That involves Iran dismantling its entire nuclear structure. It involves Iran changing the nature of its behavior in the region. That’s a recipe for no deal,” he continued. “Not only will the Iranians not agree to that. No other country in the world would support us in taking that position in the negotiations.”
He also defended the sunset clause in the agreement, stressing “the fact of the matter is the same type of options that we have in place today to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon will be available to the president of the United States in 10, 15 years — whenever the conclusion of the duration of the deal is.”
As far as how negotiations are proceeding, Rhodes said “it’s going to come down to a question of political will on the Iranian side.”
“We can see what this could look like but we’re not there because the Iranians saw further to move on some issues we really care about and we’re not going to make a bad deal as the president said. We have had plenty of opportunity to accept the bad deal and we haven’t done it.”