Obama defends likening Republicans to Iran hardliners on nuclear deal

Obama defends likening Republicans to Iran hardliners on nuclear deal
President Obama said in an interview taped before he left for vacation on Martha's Vineyard that Republicans' opposition to the Iran nuclear deal is political, not based on the merits of the deal. (Susan Walsh / AP)

President Obama stood by his charge that Iranian hardliners are making "common cause" with Republican lawmakers in opposing the landmark nuclear deal with Iran, insisting that such an accusation "is absolutely true, factually."

"Inside of Iran, the people most opposed to the deal are the Revolutionary Guard, the Quds Force, hardliners who are implacably opposed to any cooperation with the international community," Obama said in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria broadcast Sunday. He had made the accusation earlier in the week, charging Republicans with opposing the deal for political reasons.


"The reason that Mitch McConnell and the rest of the folks in his caucus who oppose this jumped out and opposed it before they even read it, before it was even posted, is reflective of a ideological commitment not to get a deal done," Obama said, naming the Senate Republican leader from Kentucky.

The deal is a good one, Obama said, arguing that it will give international inspectors the ability to monitor peaceful nuclear-energy capacity without forfeiting any options for the U.S. if Iran tries to weaponize its nuclear program. Under the terms of the deal, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. and other world powers easing economic sanctions that have crippled its economy.

The CNN interview aired Sunday amid a morning of political talk shows otherwise devoted to the discourse among Republican presidential candidates – a juxtaposition the White House was surely expecting. The more that GOP candidates and lawmakers pummel the pending deal with Iran, the more the White House emphasizes that the opposition is political.

That has become harder for the White House since the interview was taped Thursday; Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York came out in opposition to the nuclear deal late that evening. Schumer is a leading voice on the security of Israel, and some of Iran's leaders have periodically called for the destruction of Israel.

In the interim, White House officials have tried to distinguish Schumer's opposition from what they see as political expediency from the right, noting that Schumer's decision came after weeks of study and conversation with negotiators and experts. Many Republican lawmakers, Obama said, announced their opposition before they even had a chance to read and examine the details of the deal.

"It is very important, I think, over the next several weeks, to not get distracted by tone, vote counts, are Mitch McConnell's feelings hurt," Obama told Zakaria.

The decision shouldn't be influenced by politics, he argued.

"Nobody has presented a plausible alternative, other than military strikes, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," Obama said in the interview.

"That central argument hasn't really been effectively contested," he said. "Nobody has had a good answer for that."

McConnell has called the president's argument "absurd" and said war has never been the sole alternative to Obama negotiating with Iran.

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