President Obama said Saturday that diplomacy presents the best chance of stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, even though the odds are no better than even of striking a permanent nuclear deal.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50-50,” Obama said at the Saban Forum in Washington. “But we have to try.”
World powers, including the U.S., reached an interim agreement with Iran last month that requires the Middle Eastern nation to temporarily freeze its nuclear program and agree to inspections in exchange for limited relief from some economic sanctions.
The deal was struck in order to give both sides time to reach a long-term plan to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
But the Obama administration’s approach has a fair share of skeptics, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of Congress in both political parties. They believe the deal did not require Iran to give up enough of its nuclear capacity and that the Iranian regime can’t be trusted to give up its nuclear ambitions. Iran has always claimed it’s developing a nuclear program for civilian purposes only.
Obama acknowledged that Netanyahu and he have “occasionally significant tactical differences” on Iran, but they both agree that that the final outcome must be preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
The president said that the negotiations are imperfect, but are the best possible scenario to achieve a deal.
“If we could create an option in which Iran eliminated every single nut and bolt of their nuclear program and foreswore the possibility of ever having a nuclear program, and for that matter, got rid of all its military capabilities, I would take it,” Obama said. “But … I want to make sure everybody understands it — that particular option is not available.”
If both sides fail to reach a deal, Obama said, sanctions on Iran would be implemented again and could even be increased. He said the U.S. would not agree to any deal that gives Iran the explicit “right” to enrich uranium.
But he did say that Iran could end up with civilian enrichment program under “extraordinary constraints.” Those include “intrusive” inspections and the dismantling of facilities that could potentially give the country the ability to build a nuclear weapon.
The event was sponsored by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. The center is funded by Haim Saban, an Israeli-American businessman whose private-equity firm owns a partial stake in Univision Communications, Inc., a parent company of Fusion.