President Obama faced the media in the East Room Wednesday afternoon with a brusque defense of the Iran nuclear deal and snapping at a reporter who asked about four Americans still held in Iran.
After taking the first question, Obama interrupted the reporter and declared that he was just going to give from the top answers to what he thought they were going to ask. In the first 20 minutes of the press conference, he’d only taken two questions.
In fact, he brought a sheet of notes with answers he wanted to deliver, and seemed irked when reporters didn’t ask his FAQ.
“I’m just going to look — I made some notes about many of the arguments — the other arguments that I’ve heard here,” he said near the end of the press conference, prompting a reporter to shout out a question and cut off the inevitable monologue.
Obama quickly said he’s not holding out hope that Iran will change its behavior.
“Look, I’m always hopeful that behavior may change for the sake of the Iranian people as well as people in the region. There are young people there who are not getting the opportunities they deserve because of conflict, because of sectarianism, because of poor governance, because of repression, because of terrorism, and I remain eternally hopeful that we can do something about that, and it should be part of U.S. foreign policy to do something about that. But I’m not banking on that to say that this deal is the right thing to do,” he said.
“The choices would be tougher today than they would be for that president 15 years from now” if Congress doesn’t approve the deal, Obama argued. “And I have not yet heard logic that refutes that. All right?”
The president’s exasperated tone, though, began with the first question.
An Agence France-Presse reporter asked, “What steps will you take to enable a more moderate Iran, and does this deal allow you to more forcefully counter Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region, quite aside from the nuclear question?”
Even though he preceded the questions with a speech, he replied, “If you don’t mind, just because I suspect that there’s going to be a common set of questions that are touched on — I promise I will get to your question, but I want to start off just by stepping back and reminding folks of what is at stake here. And I already did in my opening statement, but I just want to reiterate it because I’ve heard already some of the objections to the deal.”
He then launched into a long string of talking points.
Jon Karl of ABC then asked: “Does it give you any pause to see this deal praised by Syrian Dictator Assad as a great victory for Iran, praised by those in Tehran who still shout ‘death to America,’ and yet our closest ally in the Middle East calls it a mistake of historic proportions?”
“It does not give me pause that Mr. Assad or others in Tehran may be trying to spin the deal in a way that they think is favorable to what their constituencies want to hear. That’s what politicians do, and that’s been the case throughout,” Obama responded. “I mean, you will recall that during the course of these negotiations over the last couple of months, every time the supreme leader or somebody tweeted something out, for some reason, we all bought into the notion, ‘Well, the Obama administration must be giving this or capitulating that.'”
“Well, now we have a document. So you can see what the deal is. We don’t have to speculate. We don’t have to engage in spin. You can just read what it says and what is required.”
The president got testy again when it was noted to him that “Prime Minister Netanyahu said that, you know, you have a situation where Iran can delay 24 days before giving access to military facilities.”
“As for the fact that it may take 24 days to finally get access to the site, the nature of nuclear programs and facilities is such — this is not something you hide in a closet. This is not something you put on a dolly and kind of wheel off somewhere,” he said. “…So we’re going to be monitoring what the activity is, and that’s going to be something that will be evidence if we think that some funny business was going on there, that we can then present to the international community.”
And, incredibly enough, he challenged Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer to make a case for war.
“The only argument you can make against the verification and inspection mechanism that we’ve put forward is that Iran is so intent on obtaining a nuclear weapon that no inspection regime and no verification mechanism would be sufficient because they’d find some way to get around it because they’re untrustworthy. And if that’s your view, then we go back to the choice that you have to make earlier,” Obama said.
“That means, presumably, that you can’t negotiate, and what you’re really saying is that you’ve got to apply military to guarantee that they don’t have a nuclear program. And if somebody wants to make that debate, whether it’s the Republican leadership or Prime Minister Netanyahu or the Israeli ambassador or others, they’re free to make it, but it’s not persuasive.”