- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2015

President Obama belittled Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Monday for playing “fast and loose” with the facts of his administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, scolding them for “sad” and irresponsible behavior.

During the first-ever trip by a president to Ethiopia, Mr. Obama also conferred with African leaders about the worsening security crisis in neighboring South Sudan and handled the 3 million-year-old fossilized bones of “Lucy,” an ancestor of modern humans, in an event that turned into a swipe at Mr. Trump.

At a news conference in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Mr. Obama responded to comments by Mr. Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, who said the Iran deal will march Israelis “to the door of the oven.” The president said the criticism is part of a pattern from GOP leaders who are engaging in reckless rhetoric on an issue of national security to score points with primary voters.

“The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are, I think, part of just a general pattern that we’ve seen that would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve had a sitting senator [Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas] call John Kerry ‘Pontius Pilate.’ We’ve had a sitting senator [Mr. Cruz of Texas], who also happens to be running for president, suggest that I’m the leading state sponsor of terrorism. These are leaders in the Republican Party.”

Mr. Huckabee fired back Monday, saying that Mr. Obama refuses to recognize the danger of the deal, which will limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting U.S. and international sanctions on Tehran.

“What’s ‘ridiculous and sad’ is that President Obama does not take Iran’s repeated threats seriously,” Mr. Huckabee said in a statement. “For decades, Iranian leaders have pledged to ‘destroy,’ ‘annihilate,’ and ‘wipe Israel off the map’ with a ‘big Holocaust.’ ‘Never again’ will be the policy of my administration and I will stand with our ally Israel to prevent the terrorists in Tehran from achieving their own stated goal of another Holocaust.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, said during a campaign stop in Iowa Monday that she was “offended personally” by Mr. Huckabee’s comments. She said he should be “repudiated by every person of good faith.”

While the president portrayed opposition to the Iran deal as partisan and self-serving, another Democratic lawmaker came out against the agreement Monday. Rep. Juan Vargas of California rejected Mr. Obama’s argument that the accord is the best one the administration could get.

“For months the administration has told us that ‘a bad deal is worse than no deal,’” Mr. Vargas wrote in The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Now the message seems to be that it is better to support than oppose this bad deal because it is the best we could get. I disagree. If this deal is approved, it will lock us into bad results that far outweigh its benefits.

He said Congress “is now faced with a decision of monumental importance.”

“Do we accept an agreement that fails to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons, or do we stand up and say ‘no,’” the lawmaker said. “I intend to stand up and vote against this deal. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of our national security, and the security of our allies and I urge my colleagues to join me in opposing this deal and press for a better deal that will truly end Iran’s nuclear weapons program and make the world safer.”

In his news conference, the president speculated that the rhetoric on the right against the Iran deal “is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines,” a reference to the real estate mogul’s rapid rise to the front ranks of presidential candidates in recent polling.

“When you get rhetoric like this, maybe it gets attention,” Mr. Obama said. “But it’s not the kind of leadership that is needed for America right now. Part of what historically has made America great is, particularly when it comes to foreign policy, there’s been a recognition that these issues are too serious, that issues of war and peace are of such grave concern and consequence that we don’t play fast and loose that way.”

The president and his advisers are lobbying Congress on the Iran deal, which will impose limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions. Congress has 60 days to review the deal.

While claiming that “99 percent of the world” supports the Iran agreement, Mr. Obama also seized on Mr. Trump to make a broader claim that GOP presidential candidates are not serious enough to lead the U.S. He noted Mr. Trump’s recent attack on Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, for his status as former prisoner of war.

“He’s challenged the heroism of Mr. McCain, somebody who endured torture and conducted himself with exemplary patriotism, [and] the Republican Party is shocked,” Mr. Obama said. “And yet, that arises out of a culture where those kinds of outrageous attacks have become far too commonplace and get circulated nonstop through the Internet and talk radio and news outlets. The American people deserve better. Certainly, presidential debates deserve better. I want to make sure I’m turning over the keys to somebody who is serious about the serious problems the country faces and the world faces.”

Mr. Obama no doubt enjoyed another dig at Mr. Trump that took place as the president viewed the fossilized bones of “Lucy,” a 3 million-year-old apelike creature linked to modern humans. The president touched the partial skeleton of the hominid in a box as anthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged, chair of the Anthropology Department at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, explained the fossils to him.

Mr. Alemseged asked the president to touch the bones, and said the fossil demonstrated how all human beings are connected.

“It shows that every single person here, 7 billion people — including Donald Trump — came down through the chain.”

“That’s amazing,” Mr. Obama said. “So Lucy was on the chain to Homo sapiens.”

The president asked “how many jumps” there were between Lucy and modern humans. Mr. Alemseged said there were multiple generations in between, and that “we have the evidence that Homo sapiens indeed emerged in Ethiopia.”

The viewing of Lucy came prior to a state dinner for Mr. Obama in Addis Ababa. “Lucy” is the common name for pieces of fossilized bone representing 40 percent of a female Australopithecus afarensis, discovered in 1974 by American anthropologist Donald Johanson in Ethiopia’s Afar region.

Scientists estimate that Lucy lived about 3.2 million years ago.

Mr. Obama also convened African leaders in Addis Ababa for urgent talks aimed at keeping South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, from collapsing amid civil war.

“The possibilities of renewed conflict in a region that has been torn by conflict for so long, and has resulted in so many deaths, is something that requires urgent attention from all of us,” Mr. Obama said. “We don’t have a lot of time to wait.”

• David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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