Outline Nuclear Agreement US Best Bet

Outline Nuclear Agreement US Best BetOutline Nuclear Agreement US Best Bet

US President Barack Obama strongly defended last week's preliminary nuclear agreement with Iran as a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to resolve a major issue in a dangerous region.

As he sought in an interview with the New York Times to sell the tentative deal to skeptics accusing him of giving away too much, Obama suggested that he could accept some sort of vote in the US Congress if it did not block his ability to carry out the agreement.

This is "our best bet" to make sure Iran's nuclear program will remain peaceful, Obama said in the interview published on Sunday. Iran denies its nuclear program may have any military objectives, saying the work is solely for peaceful purposes such as generating electricity.

Obama also provided new details about how international inspectors would try to access Iran's nuclear sites and about the sequence that would lead to sanctions being lifted. Both were major issues in the last days of negotiations in Switzerland, and Obama's descriptions differed in some respects from Iran's interpretations.

That gap suggested the hardest moments in the negotiations may yet be ahead, given that commitments made last week must still be enshrined in a written document signed by all parties by June 30. But Obama seemed to gain breathing space as Republicans signaled they would give him until then to see what the final deal looks like before directly intervening.

Under the framework, negotiated with the United States and five other world powers, Iran agreed to constraints on its nuclear program for 10 to 15 years and accepted expanded international inspections. In exchange, the US, the EU and the UN would lift sanctions.

The agreement leaves Iran with a nuclear program in place, drawing criticism from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress.

  Nonbinding Vote

While resisting what he deemed congressional interference, Obama reached out to Republicans, calling Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a "good and decent man." He did not embrace Corker's legislation to give Congress the right to approve or reject the deal. But when asked about a nonbinding vote, the president appeared supportive.

"My hope is that we can find something that allows Congress to express itself but does not encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives and ensures that if in fact we get a good deal that we can go ahead and implement it," Obama said.

Under the agreement, Iran would limit enrichment of uranium at its Natanz facility, convert its Fordo enrichment facility into a research center, and modify its Arak heavy water reactor to reduce its plutonium output. But the structure of international inspections was left vague, as was the timing for lifting sanctions.

Obama said that inspectors would be able to watch "the entire nuclear chain" and that a "procurement committee" would examine Iranian imports to be sure equipment would be appropriate for peaceful nuclear uses.

Obama said sanctions would be lifted only after Iran lived up to its commitments. "There are still details to be worked out," he said, "But I think that the basic framework calls for Iran to take the steps that it needs to around Fordo, the centrifuges and so forth. At that point, then the UN sanctions are suspended."

He said the United States would "preserve the ability to snap back those sanctions if there is a violation."

US administration officials said they envisioned Iran being able to take the required steps within months or a year of an agreement, at which point nuclear-related economic sanctions would be removed.

Asked about an Obama Doctrine, he said, "The doctrine is we will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities. And I've been very clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch… But I say that hoping that we can conclude this diplomatic arrangement and that it ushers in a new era in US-Iranian relations."