Obama calls Iran deal ‘historic chance to pursue a safer and more secure world’

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the recent Iran nuclear deal during a news conference at the White House in Washington July 15, 2015 (Reuters / Yuri Gripas)
President Barack Obama took to his pulpit a day after the historic Iran nuclear deal was inked to sell Congress and the American people on the agreement. He also took the opportunity to stress that the plan prevents Iran from obtaining an atomic bomb.

Obama outlined his case from the White House’s East Room on Wednesday, saying that American national security depends on Congress accepting and passing the deal. If lawmakers scuttle the agreement, he warned, Iran would continue on the path of developing a nuclear weapon.

“We’ve got a historic chance to pursue a safer and more secure world, an opportunity that may not come again in our lifetimes. As president and as commander-in-chief, I am determined to seize that opportunity,” Obama said.

The president trumpeted America’s diplomatic prowess in finally closing the deal. Negotiations leading to the landmark agreement began under his predecessor, President George W. Bush.

“The comprehensive, long-term deal that we achieved with our allies and partners to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon represents a powerful display of American leadership and diplomacy,” Obama said. “It shows what we can accomplish when we lead from a position of strength and a position of principle, when we unite the international community around a shared vision and we resolve to solve problems peacefully.”

Obama credited the American-led international sanctions against Iran with bringing the country to the bargaining table due to their crippling effect on Iran’s economy. Yet earlier on Wednesday, the president’s energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, tempered that claim. He told CNN that while the sanctions may have led Iran to negotiate, economic punishment had done nothing to deter Iran in its quest to develop nuclear weapons.

“First of all, we all know that sanctions were effective in bringing Iran to the table,” Moniz said on CNN’s ‘New Day.' But “it did not stop them from pursuing a nuclear weapons program quite aggressively,” he added.

However, Obama promised that the threat of reinstating economic sanctions included in the deal will provide a viable deterrent in preventing Iran from reneging on the agreement.

“With this deal, if Iran violates its commitments, there will be real consequences. Nuclear-related sanctions that have helped to cripple the Iranian economy will snap back into place,” Obama said. “Without a deal, the international sanctions regime will unravel ‒ with little ability to reimpose them.”

READ MORE: Spoiler alert: How US politics could wreck the Iran deal

The president acknowledged that there were various ways for Congress ‒ or his successor ‒ to kill the agreement, even if US lawmakers approve implementation of the deal during their legally mandated 60-day review period.

“No one suggests that this deal resolves all the threats that Iran poses to its neighbors or the world. Moreover, realizing the promise of this deal will require many years of implementation and hard work. It will require vigilance and execution,” Obama said. “But this deal is our best means of assuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon. And, from the start, that has been my number one priority, our number one priority.”

While the deal does not require congressional approval to go into effect, a vote against it would stop Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran, which is needed to move the process forward. If they aren’t lifted, the agreement may as well not exist. On top of that, the next president ‒ especially if Republicans win the White House ‒ could kill the accord in various ways, including rejecting it, ceasing US participation in its terms, reinstating American sanctions, or slowly undermining the deal.

In an attempt to assuage the fears of the United States’ long-term ally Israel, which was not a party to the negotiations, as well as those of American lawmakers, Obama promised that the agreement also allows the international community to continue pressing for changes on other fronts.

“Even with this deal, we will continue to have profound differences with Iran: Its support of terrorism, its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East,” he said. “Therefore, the multilateral arms embargo on Iran will remain in place for an additional five years, and restrictions on ballistic-missile technology will remain for eight years.”

“In addition, the United States will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic-missile program, its human rights violations,” the president added. “And we’ll continue our unprecedented security cooperation with Israel, and continue to deepen our partnerships with the Gulf states.”