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Obama Says Iran Nuclear Deal Meets U.S. National Security Interests

This post was last updated at 2:54 p.m. ET

President Obama offered a robust defense of the historic deal struck with Iran on its nuclear program, saying it meets the "national security interests of the United States and its allies."

In a more than hourlong news conference, Obama dismissed criticism of the deal, acknowledging that he expects "robust" debate over the agreement in Congress, but urging lawmakers to evaluate "this agreement based on the facts, not on politics, not on posturing."

"This is the most vigorous inspection and verification deal that has ever been negotiated," he said.

The news conference comes a day afterthe U.S. and five other world powers struck a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

Obama said the agreement cuts off all the pathways the Islamic republic has toward a nuclear weapon. He said the alternative to the deal was to leave Iran closer to becoming a nuclear power, making military confrontation with the country more likely.

But the agreement faces deep skepticism in Congress, which has 60 days to debate the deal, as well as among U.S. allies in the Middle East, especially Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told NPR today: "I think this deal gives Iran a path to a nuclear arsenal, and I think it gives them hundreds of billions of dollars right away with which to pursue their aggression and terror against us and against the United States and the world."

But Obama asserted that critics of the agreement who say it won't work because Iran is "untrustworthy" are saying the only option left against the Islamic republic is military force.

He added: "There's no scenario in which a U.S. president is not in a stronger position 12, 13, 14 years from now."

If Iran decides at that point — either covertly or openly — that it is pursuing nuclear weapons, "they won't be at a breakout point that they are at now," he said, emphasizing that Iran will be further away from the bomb than it is now.

Our live updates of the news conference are below:

Update at 2:34 p.m. ET 'No Scenario' By Which U.S. Not Stronger

"There's no scenario in which a U.S. president is not in a stronger position 12, 13, 14 years from now," Obama says.

If Iran decides at that point — either covertly or openly — that it is pursuing nuclear weapons, "they won't be at a breakout point that they are at now .... that is shorter than one that exists today," he says.

Updated at 2:29 p.m. ET Obama On Iran's Support For Hezbollah

"We should do a better job making sure Iran is not engaged in sending arms to Hezbollah," the president says.

Update at 2:24 p.m. ET Obama On Cosby

Obama says: "If you give a woman — or a man for that matter — without his or her knowledge a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that's rape."

He says there's no precedent — or mechanism — for revoking a presidential medal of freedom, which Bill Cosby has received.

Update at 2:14 p.m. ET Imprisoned Americans In Iran

The president says the U.S. is "working diligently" to ensure that the three Americans imprisoned in Iran — and the one American missing in the country — are returned.

But he added that the U.S. did not tie their fate to the nuclear negotiations because that could have emboldened Iran to keep them longer in order to get more concessions from the U.S.

Update at 2:10 p.m. ET No Formal Cooperation With Iran In Iraq

Obama says the nuclear agreement does not mean the U.S. is normalizing relations with Iran.

"I do not foresee a formal agreement with Iran" on fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, he says, adding that "clearly" Iran has influence in the country.

Update at 2:07 p.m. ET What He Hopes To Leave Behind In The Region

Obama says that at the end of his presidency he hopes "we are on track to defeat ISIL ... that we have jump-started a process to resolve the civil war in Syria" and ensure a situation in Iraq where Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds work together.

And, he says, the U.S. must work to address the youth in the region so they are not attracted to the "nihilistic, violent dead end that organizations like ISIL offer."

But he adds: "It's not the job of the president of the United States to solve every problem in the Middle East."

Update at 1:57 p.m. ET Obama On Critics Of Deal

The president offered a detailed rebuttal of criticism of the deal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as by Republicans in Congress.

"This is the most vigorous inspection and verification deal that has ever been negotiated," Obama says.

He says those who say it will not work because Iran is "untrustworthy" are essentially saying the only option left is the use of military force against the Islamic republic.

He says the deal allows the U.S. to forcefully respond, including through sanctions, if Iran violates any aspect of the agreement.

Update at 1:45 p.m. ET Obama On Congressional Vote On Deal

"My hope is that everyone in Congress ... evaluates this agreement based on the facts," Obama says. "Not on politics. Not on posturing."

Having said that, he adds: "I'm not betting on the Republican Party rallying behind his agreement."

Update at 1:39 p.m. ET Deal Not Contingent On Iran Behaving Like Liberal Democracy

The president says an international consensus was built around the premise that Iran should not have nuclear weapons.

"The deal negotiated ... achieves that goal," he says.

But Obama adds: "We have always recognized that even if Iran" didn't develop nuclear weapons, "Iran still poses a challenge to our interests and our values both in the region and in the world."

"This deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior," he says. "It's not contingent on Iran behaving like a liberal democracy."

Update at 1:31 p.m. ET Obama: 'The Bottom Line'

The "bottom line," Obama says, is that the deal "meets the national security interests of the United States and its allies."

Update at 1:29 p.m. ET Obama Lists What The Deal Accomplishes

"We cut off every single pathway to Iran's nuclear program," Obama says. "Without a deal, those pathways remain open."

If they violate the deal, he says, they face "real consequences."

Updated at 1:27 p.m. Obama Expects 'Robust' Debate

President Obama calls Tuesday a "historic day."

"It shows what we can accomplish when we negotiate from a position of strength," he says.

Obama says he expects a "robust" debate on the issue.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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