Obama fiercely defends Iran deal

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama was eager to take on critics of the Iran nuclear deal during a long press conference on Wednesday, even departing from his script and taking more questions than planned in order to defend the agreement.

“I’ve heard already some of the objections to the deal,” Obama said, an understatement given the loud objections from congressional Republicans, GOP presidential candidates and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As for skeptical Democrats in Congress, Vice President Joe Biden was dispatched to Capitol Hill in the morning to meet with House Democrats.

Back in the East Room, Obama was determined to raise and answer doubts about the plan to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

At one point, and this is unusual, Obama solicited more questions from reporters on Iran because, he said, “I just want to make sure that we’re not leaving any stones unturned here.”

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And then, as he was wrapping up, Obama checked a paper he brought with him, saying, “I made some notes about many of the arguments — the other arguments that I’ve heard here” to make sure he delivered all his points.

With the space I have here, I want to throw a spotlight on two of those arguments Obama made that may address some questions you have.

Obama outlined what the agreement finalized in Austria on Tuesday between Iran and six nations is not: By design, the deal is not a cure for all the problems the U.S. has with Iran.

“We built that international consensus around this very specific narrow, but profound, issue — the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.

He ticked off a list of some of the most serious problems the U.S. has with Iran that will remain with the deal:

“We’ll still have problems with Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, its funding of proxies like Hezbollah that threaten Israel and threaten the region, the destabilizing activities that they’re engaging in, including in places like Yemen.

“And my hope is that building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave. But we’re not counting on it.

“So this deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior. It’s not contingent on Iran suddenly operating like a liberal democracy. It solves one particular problem, which is making sure they don’t have a bomb.

“And the point I’ve repeatedly made and I believe is hard to dispute is that it’ll be a lot easier for us to check Iran’s nefarious activities, to push back against the other areas where they operate contrary to our interests or our allies’ interests if they don’t have the bomb.”

The deal also does not free four Americans held in Iran.

A key benchmark is a provision — a big one for the critics — that lifts some restrictions after 10 years, presuming Iran does not cheat. Obama laid out the rationale and defense.

Stockpiles will still be held to a minimal level for 15 years.

“The inspections don’t go away,” Obama said.

“Those are still in place 15, 20 years from now. Their commitment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty does not go away. . . . The additional protocol that they have to sign up for under this deal, which requires a more extensive inspection and verification mechanism, that stays in place.”

Obama concluded, and this will be a central point of debate in Congress and in the 2016 presidential campaign, “There is no scenario in which a U.S. president is not in a stronger position 12, 13, 15 years from now, if in fact Iran decided at that point they still wanted to get a nuclear weapon.”

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

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