Saturday 16 December 2017

Iran deal's critics can't offer better alternative, says Obama

US President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday
US President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday

Peter Foster in Washington

President Barack Obama challenged his critics at home and abroad to back the Iran nuclear deal last night, warning that failure to support the agreement would risk "even more war in the Middle East" and trigger an arms race in the world's most unstable region.

The US president led the defence of a deal that has been described as a "cosmic bet" by some critics in America, as both Republicans and Democrats raise concerns that the administration and the world powers have not driven a hard enough bargain with Tehran.

"The deal makes our country and our world more secure," said Mr Obama, rejecting accusations that the agreement was weak and challenging its detractors, including Israel, to offer a better alternative.

"There really are only two alternatives here. Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb is resolved diplomatically, through negotiation, or it's resolved with force, through war. Those are the options," he said.

His remarks came as the White House launched a diplomatic offensive to persuade members of Congress not to pass a motion disapproving of a deal that was finalised in Vienna this week after months of gruelling negotiations.

Critics in Congress warn that the decision to lift the UN arms embargo after five years would itself trigger an arms race, as Iran used billions of dollars of promised sanctions relief to fuel its policies of regional aggression.

Mr Obama argued that sufficient arms control would remain in place, and that Israel and the Gulf States would, with Western assistance, be able to shore up defences against Iran, a listed state sponsor of terrorism.

With the US Congress now having 60 days to scrutinise the deal, other questions focus on the quality of the inspections regime and whether Iran will really come clean to the IAEA, the international nuclear watchdog, over the military aspects of its now-frozen nuclear programme.

Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, who negotiated with the White House to win the right for a review of the deal by Congress, said Republicans had grave misgivings about the wider motives behind the deal.

"The context [of the negotiations] is Russia obviously wanting to sell them arms, China wanting their oil, the European community wanting to do business with them and, candidly, an administration that wanted to build a legacy," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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