- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

President Obama attacked Republican opponents of his Iranian nuclear deal Wednesday in unusually personal and harsh terms, noting that they’re the same people who rushed America into war with Iraq a decade ago, and warned of a U.S.-Israel war against Tehran “soon” if Congress kills the diplomatic agreement.

In a major address aimed more at stemming defections in his own party than persuading Republicans, Mr. Obama made the large claim that the deal “permanently prohibits” Iran from developing nuclear weapons and is thus the best way to protect Israel, even while he acknowledged that sanctions relief will provide Tehran with more money to fuel terrorism.

He portrayed the congressional vote next month on the deal as a test of whether lawmakers can resist the same “drumbeat of war” that led to the costly American overthrow of Saddam Hussein after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal,” Mr. Obama said at American University. “Let’s not mince words: The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some sort of war — maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”

Reaction to the speech was largely along party lines. A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Obama was relying on “partisan attacks, false claims and fear.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said the president “made a compelling case for the agreement and confronted naysayers head-on.”

The president spoke after Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of New York, an ally of the White House and the highest-ranking Jewish Democrat in the House, announced he will oppose the Iran deal. Other Democratic defections this week included two other prominent Jewish lawmakers — Reps. Nita M. Lowey of New York and Theodore E. Deutch of Florida.

Ms. Lowey said the agreement “will leave the international community with limited options in 15 years to prevent nuclear breakout in Iran, which will be an internationally recognized nuclear threshold state, capable of producing highly enriched uranium.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday there is “growing bipartisan concern” about the nuclear deal, calling lawmakers’ misgivings “widespread and well-founded.”

Meanwhile, the only Obama administration official to view secret “side deals” between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged Wednesday that she has only seen drafts.

“I didn’t see the final documents. I saw the provisional documents, as did my experts,” Wendy Sherman, a top U.S. negotiator for the deal, testified at a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

She said she was permitted to see the confidential text only because the IAEA “wanted to go over with some of our experts the technical details” during the talks in Vienna.

Many Republican lawmakers are calling on the administration to turn over the documents to Congress so they can accurately assess the strength or weakness of the overall nuclear accord. Ms. Sherman, the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs, said those documents are confidential and can’t be submitted to Congress.

The House and Senate will hold votes in September on resolutions to disapprove of the Iranian accord. Most Republicans are expected to reject the agreement, and the White House is focused on holding enough support among Democrats to sustain a veto of legislation to block the deal.

At least 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 House Democrats would be needed to join Republicans in opposing the deal to get the two-thirds majorities required to override a veto. Seven House Democrats have announced their opposition; no Democratic senators have done so.

Some key Democratic senators announced their support this week, including Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, met with members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Wednesday to explain the deal, but Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, said he ended up with more questions than answers.

Mr. Corker said he’s worried inspectors won’t be able to get into the Parchin military site, which is a suspected site of nuclear weapons-related ballistics testing.

“We cannot get him to even confirm that we will have physical access inside of Parchin,” Mr. Corker said after the meeting. “So I think that most members … left here with greater concerns about the inspection regime than they came in with.”

Mr. Amano said IAEA has access to any sites it deems necessary to visit, including Parchin. But Iran has not fully accepted the agreement, called the Additional Protocol, which gives IAEA access to documents and facilities.

Still, Mr. Amano brushed aside GOP requests to get a look at side agreements the IAEA reached with Iran over inspections access, saying they are confidential.

“Imagine if a country provides me with confidential information or agreement on the implementation and I do not honor the commitment. No country will share the information with us, and I cannot implement the safeguard,” Mr. Amano said.

Mr. Obama devoted much of his speech to rebutting his critics, including the concern that Iran will use billions of dollars of sanctions relief to sponsor more terrorist attacks. A new study estimates that Iran’s military spending could increase by $4.8 billion under the nuclear deal, including a 50-percent budget increase for its terror-linked paramilitary force.

The study, by the American Action Forum, said the deal would generate roughly $140 billion in funds for Iran due to sanctions relief and the unfreezing of assets.
The president acknowledged that some of the money from sanctions relief “will flow to activities that we object to.”

“We have no illusions about the Iranian government, or the significance of the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force,” Mr. Obama said. “Iran supports terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. It supports proxy groups that threaten our interests and the interests of our allies — including proxy groups who killed our troops in Iraq. They try to destabilize our Gulf partners. But Iran has been engaged in these activities for decades. The truth is that Iran has always found a way to fund these efforts, and whatever benefit Iran may claim from sanctions relief pales in comparison to the danger it could pose with a nuclear weapon.”

The White House chose the setting for the address to evoke memories of a speech by President Kennedy at the university in 1963, when he called on the Soviet Union to join the U.S. in a nuclear test-ban treaty several months after the Cuban missile crisis. Mr. Obama said Kennedy rejected calls by hawks in the U.S. for “a perpetual war footing.”

“We created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama called the accord “the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated.”

“I’ve had to make a lot of tough calls as president,” he said, but this decision was “not even close.”

Several times in his speech, the president chastised those who pushed for war in Iraq after the 9/11 attacks and compared them with GOP lawmakers who are now voicing their opposition to the Iran deal.

“Before Congress even read it, a majority of Republicans declared their virulent opposition,” Mr. Obama said.

The president said the Bush administration and Congress in 2003 were guilty of “a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported.”

“I know it’s easy to play on people’s fears, to magnify threats, to compare any attempt at diplomacy to Munich,” he said, referring to Britain’s appeasement of Nazi Germany in 1938.

“But none of these arguments hold up. They didn’t back in 2002 and 2003, [and] they shouldn’t now. The same mindset in many cases offered by the same people who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong led to a war that did more to strengthen Iran, more to isolate the United States, than anything we have done in the decades before or since,” he said.

He said the war in Iraq should have taught Washington to “resist the conventional wisdom and the drumbeat of war.”

“Worry less about being labeled weak, [and] worry more about getting it right,” he said.

Mr. Obama also said Iranian hard-liners who oppose the agreement are of the same ilk as the GOP.

“They’re making common cause with the Republican Congress,” Mr. Obama said. “Just because Iranian hard-liners chant ‘Death to America’ does not mean that’s what all Iranians believe.”

Mr. McConnell called on the president to retract those “bizarre and preposterous” comments.

“I imagine the Democrats who’ve already come out against this agreement will be especially insulted by it,” Mr. McConnell said. “This goes way over the line of civil discourse.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, said as president he would “terminate this disastrous agreement on Day One.”

“President Obama could give 100 speeches attempting to justify his appeasement of the rogue Iranian regime, and it wouldn’t change a thing,” Mr. Walker said. He said the agreement “jeopardizes American safety and that of our allies, especially Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told American Jewish leaders that the accord will trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

“The countries in the region threatened by Iran have already made clear that they will work to develop atomic bombs of their own,” Mr. Netanyahu said Tuesday in a webcast. “This is a very dangerous deal, and it threatens all of us.”

Mr. Obama took a moment in his speech to address Israelis directly.

“To friends of Israel and to the Israeli people, I say this: A nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America and to the world, than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief,” the president said.

He said of Mr. Netanyahu: “I do not doubt his sincerity. But I believe he is wrong. I believe the facts support this deal.”

Mr. Obama said he would be violating his constitutional duty if he were to act against his best judgment “simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.”

Mr. Obama met with Jewish-American leaders at the White House on Tuesday to build support for the deal, telling them that if war follows failed diplomacy, Israel would take the brunt of Iran’s military response.

“They will fight this asymmetrically. That means more support for terrorism, more Hezbollah rockets falling on Tel Aviv,” one attendee quoted Mr. Obama as saying. “I can assure that Israel will bear the brunt of the asymmetrical response that Iran will have to a military strike on its nuclear facilities.”

⦁ Anjali Shastry contributed to this report.

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