Noting that he picked American University because JFK spoke there during the Cold War, President Obama hailed his nuclear agreement with Iran as a landmark moment in nonproliferation while launching blistering attacks against any critics of the deal.
Kennedy, he said, “rejected the prevailing attitude among some foreign-policy circles that equated security with a perpetual war footing.”
“Instead, he promised strong, principled American leadership on behalf of what he called a practical and attainable peace, a peace based not on a sudden revolution in human nature, but on a gradual evolution in human institutions, on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements… The agreement now reached between the international community and the Islamic Republic of Iran builds on this tradition of strong, principled policy diplomacy.”
Obama called the P5+1 deal “the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.”
He panned the debate back during the Iraq war: “Those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive while dismissing those who disagreed as weak, even appeasers of a malevolent adversary.”
He claimed that for Iran to violate the deal it would need to have “a secret source for every single aspect of its program.”
“This deal is not just the best choice among alternatives, this is the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated, and because this is such a strong deal, every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support,” Obama continued.
“I’ve had to make a lot of tough calls as president, but whether or not this deal is good for American security is not one of those calls, it’s not even close. Unfortunately, we’re living through a time in American politics where every foreign policy decision is viewed through a partisan prison, evaluated by headline-grabbing soundbites, and so before the ink was even dry on this deal, before Congress even read it, a majority of Republicans declared their virulent opposition. Lobbyists and pundits were suddenly transformed into armchair nuclear scientists disputing the assessments of experts like Secretary Moniz, challenging his findings, offering multiple and sometimes contradictory arguments about why Congress should reject this deal.”
Obama said inspectors would get regular access to Iran’s “key” nuclear sites and brushed off objections to the potential 24-day delay to probe a site because “nuclear material isn’t something you hide in the closet.”
He added that “an argument against sanctions relief is effectively an argument against any diplomatic resolution of this issue.”
“But the notion that this will be a game-changer with all this money funneled into Iran’s pernicious activities misses the reality of Iran’s current situation,” he said, claiming that since “Iran’s leaders have raised expectations of their people, that sanctions relief will improve their lives” they’ll have to use the money domestically. “…Let’s stipulate that some of that money will flow to activities that we object to.”
“There is no scenario where sanctions relief turns Iran into the region’s dominant power,” Obama said. “…So, contrary to the alarmists who claim Iran is on the brink of taking over the Middle East, or even the world, Iran will remain a regional power with its own set of challenges.”
The president said those arguing that the deal needs to be tossed back for a better one “are either ignorant of Iranian society, or they are not being straight with the American people.”
“If, as has also been suggested, we tried to maintain unilateral sanctions, beefen them up, we would be standing alone. We cannot dictate the foreign, economic and energy policies of every major power in the world. In order to even try to do that, we would have to sanction, for example, some of the world’s largest banks. We’d have to cut off countries like China from the American financial system,” he said. “And since they happen to be major purchasers of our debt, such actions could trigger severe disruptions in our own economy, and, by way, raise questions internationally about the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency. That’s part of the reason why many of the previous unilateral sanctions were waived.”
“What’s more likely to happen should Congress reject this deal is that Iran would end up with some form of sanctions relief without having to accept any of the constraints or inspections required by this deal. So in that sense, the critics are right. Walk away from this agreement, and you will get a better deal — for Iran.”
Obama added that he wouldn’t “mince words: The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”
“I recognize that resorting to force may be tempting in the face of the rhetoric and behavior that emanates from parts of Iran. It is offensive. It is incendiary. We do take it seriously,” he said. “But superpowers should not act impulsively in response to taunts or even provocations that can be addressed short of war. Just because Iranian hardliners chant ‘Death to America’ does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe. In fact, it’s those — in fact, it’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo. It’s those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican Caucus.”
Obama said “when we carefully examine the arguments against this deal, none stand up to scrutiny.”
“That may be why the rhetoric on the other side is so strident. I suppose some of it can be ascribed to knee-jerk partisanship that has become all too familiar, rhetoric that renders every decision made to be a disaster, a surrender. You’re aiding terrorists; you’re endangering freedom,” he said, adding that opposing the deal out of “affinity” for Israel is a “more understandable motivation.”
“Israel can defend itself against any conventional danger, whether from Iran directly or from its proxies,” the president added.
“I recognize that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees, disagrees strongly” with the deal, Obama acknowledged. “I do not doubt his sincerity, but I believe he is wrong. I believe the facts support this deal. I believe they are in America’s interests and Israel’s interests, and as president of the United States it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.”
“…What separates us from the empires of old, what has made us exceptional, is not the mere fact of our military might.”