President Barack Obama has strongly defended the landmark Iranian nuclear deal, saying it blocks every pathway for Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons and was in the interest of both the United States and Israel.
Addressing the concerns of the Jewish community ahead of a crucial congressional vote next month, Obama in a webcast from the White House said, "this deal blocks every pathway that Iran might take in order to obtain a nuclear weapon."
Because of the stringency of the deal, a vast majority of experts on nuclear proliferation have endorsed this deal, he asserted. Obama yesterday said the world is more or less united, with some exceptions of Israel around the deal.
"People have said that, well, Iran will cheat. They are not trustworthy. I keep on emphasising we do not trust Iran. Iran is antagonistic to the US. It is anti-Semitic. It has denied the Holocaust. It has called for the destruction of Israel. It is an unsavoury regime," he said, adding that Iran is a regional power and not a superpower.
"But this deal doesn't rely on trust; it relies on verification and our capacity to catch them when they cheat and to respond vigorously if they do," Obama said.
Obama also acknowledged the support that most Jews have given him, saying, "I wouldn't be sitting here if it weren't for my friends and supporters in the Jewish community."
"Because of the unprecedented partnership we have with Israel, Israel has a much stronger military. Our Gulf partners spend eight times as much money as Iran does on their military," he said.
"So what we have done is, for the first 10 years, essentially restricted Iran's capacity not just to weaponize nuclear power but we severely constrain any nuclear programme -- peaceful or militarised.
"After 10 years, they're able to obtain some additional advanced centrifuges, but they continue to have to be carefully monitored in terms of the stockpiles that they produce," the US President said.
Obama's comments came at a sensitive time as next month Congress will take up resolutions to scuttle the nuclear deal. The potential congressional face-off has sparked an intense debate between supporters and opponents of the nuclear deal.
The Internet broadcast was hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations and The Jewish Federations of North America.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has fiercely criticised the nuclear deal, took part in a similar webcast hosted by the same organisations earlier this month.
Israel strongly opposes the deal, which seeks to keep Iran from building a nuclear bomb in exchange for international sanctions relief. The deal was reached in July after extensive negotiations with the US, Britain, France, Germany and Russia.
In addition, Obama said, the deal has created a strong verification and inspection mechanism across the entire nuclear production chain within Iran that is unprecedented -- more rigorous than anything that has ever been negotiated in the history of nuclear nonproliferation.
"We also preserve the capacity to snap back all the various sanctions provisions that we put in place very systematically... We have the capacity to snap those back in the event that Iran cheats or does not abide by the terms of the deal," Obama said.
"Even critics of this deal acknowledge that for the first 15 years or so, we have extended the breakout time so that not only are we on them constantly, observing what they're doing, but if they decided that they wanted to break the deal, we would have ample time to respond in ways that prevented them from getting a nuclear weapon. The breakout time would be significantly longer than it is right now," Obama said.
"A second argument I've heard is, well, they are going to, in 15 years, have the ability to break out and they'll be more powerful. But, in fact, we're not giving away anything in this deal in terms of our capacity to respond if they choose to cheat. We are not giving up our ability to respond militarily. We're not giving up our ability to impose sanctions," he said.
Obama said the third sticking point was this deal will give a windfall to Iran and they will be able to conduct more terrorist activity and destabilising activity in the region.
"I want to make sure people have some perspective here. Iran's defence budget is USD 15 billion a year. By comparison, ours is around USD, 600 billion," he said.
"The money that they're obtaining is money that has been frozen under sanctions. They will get about USD 56 billion back, but they're going to have to spend that to prop up an economy that's been crushed by our sanctions," he said.
"Their economy will improve modestly, but there's no analysis that's been done by our experts that suggest that they are going to have a qualitatively different capacity to engage in some of the nefarious activities that they've done before," Obama said.
That's not to say that those aren't very serious issues, he noted.
"We have to stop Iran from getting missiles to Hezbollah that threaten Israel. We have to stop their destabilising activities using proxies in other parts of the region," he said.