Barack Obama: Blocking Iran deal would lead to war

President Barack Obama has launched a blistering denunciation of opposition to his Iran nuclear deal, arguing that none of the criticism stands up to scrutiny and warning that if Congress blocks the accord it will put the US on the path to another Middle East war.

President Barack Obama tells students at American University that rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran would lead to war. Picture: Getty Images
President Barack Obama tells students at American University that rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran would lead to war. Picture: Getty Images

In an address at American University in Washington last night, Mr Obama said: “The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some form of war. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”

The president’s address, which lasted nearly an hour, was part of an intense summer lobbying campaign by both supporters and opponents of the nuclear deal. Members of Congress will vote next month on a resolution either approving or disapproving the pact.

Seeking to isolate his critics, Mr Obama said the rest of the world supports the Iran accord, with the notable exception of Israel. He reaffirmed his support for Israel’s security and said he does not doubt the sincerity of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the fiercest opponents of the agreement.

But in a blunt assessment of Mr Netanyahu’s views, Mr Obama said: “I believe he is wrong.”

Opponents of the deal say it would leave too much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place and allow Tehran to start rebuilding its programme after a decade. Critics also contend Iran will use an influx of funds now frozen under international sanctions to boost terrorist activity around the Middle East.

The White House has urged lawmakers to vote solely on the deal’s ability to prevent Iran from building a bomb, not on its other destabilising activities or anti-American sentiments.

Mr Obama said that while Iranian hardliners may chant “Death to America” in the streets of Tehran, that is not the belief of all Iranians.

“In fact, it’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo,” he said. “It’s those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.”

Republicans, who are largely united in their opposition to the diplomatic deal, appeared unmoved by the president’s lengthy address. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham accused him of relying on “endless strawmen to divert attention from his failed policies”.

Mr Obama drew on history to bolster support, saying the accord builds on an American tradition of “strong, principled diplomacy” with adversaries, including the former Soviet Union. He spoke at the same university where John F Kennedy called for Cold War diplomacy and nuclear disarmament.

Recalling more recent American history, Mr Obama cast the forthcoming vote in Congress as the nation’s most consequential foreign policy debate since the 2002 vote to authorise the Iraq war. He said many of those who oppose the Iran pact are the same as those who pushed for the war, which is now known to have been based on flawed intelligence.

While Mr Obama was an early opponent of the Iraq war, several of his top foreign policy advisers voted for the 2002 authorisation, including Vice-President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They now say the war was a mistake.