Source: USA TODAY
President Obama said Saturday the odds of a long-term nuclear deal with Iran are no better than 50-50, but diplomacy remains the best chance to deprive Tehran of the means to make nuclear weapons.
“It is important for us to test that proposition during the next six months,” Obama said during a Middle East forum in Washington, D.C.
As for the likelihood of success, Obama told the audience: “I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50/50. But we have to try.”
According to a six-month temporary deal struck last month, Iran has agreed to cap its nuclear activities while the U.S. and its allies slightly reduce some of the economic sanctions on the nation.
The temporary arrangement gives negotiators the time and space to discuss a long-term deal in which Iran would agree to forgo the ability to make nuclear weapons and submit its program to international inspections, Obama said.
Obama said his bottom-line goal is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but the best way to do that is “a comprehensive, verifiable, diplomatic resolution, without taking any other options off the table if we fail to achieve that.”
Administration aides have said the alternative to diplomacy could be some kind of military confrontation with Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some U.S. lawmakers have criticized the interim agreement, saying Iran cannot be trusted and is giving up little in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iran has consistently said its nuclear program is designed to produce civilian energy, not nuclear weapons.
During the forum at a Washington hotel, Obama said he and Netanyahu — “my friend Bibi” — have been in “constant consultation” on the Iran issue.
The United States remains committed to Israel’s security, Obama said, and the two nations’ military and intelligence cooperation “has never been stronger.” (Obama also discussed efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace during the forum.)
The White House opposes new congressional proposals to increase economic sanctions on Iran, saying they would scuttle the interim agreement and end hopes for a permanent one.
The president stressed that the United States and its allies are reducing sanctions only by some $7 billion — “we’ve turned the spigot slightly” — and the arrangement does not include “core sanctions” on oil, finance and banking.
Those sanctions can return and be strengthened if Iran is caught cheating on nuclear development, Obama said.
“If and when Iran shows itself not to be abiding by this agreement, not to be negotiating in good faith, we can reverse them and tighten them even further,” he said.
Haim Saban, the host of the forum, pointed out during the discussion that long-ago diplomatic efforts did not prevent North Korea and Pakistan from obtaining nuclear weapons.
There’s no guarantee that the U.S. and its allies will be able to reach a final agreement with Iran, Obama said, but it is worth the effort.
“We don’t know yet,” Obama said. “I think it’s important for everybody to understand this is hard.”