Obama Pitches Accord to American Jews

Obama Pitches Accord to American JewsObama Pitches Accord to American Jews

US President Barack Obama tried to persuade American Jewish leaders to back his recent nuclear deal with Iran at a Tuesday White House meeting that was at times contentious, according to participants.

"It's my birthday and I'm going to be blunt," Obama told the group of 22 Jewish leaders who gathered in the Cabinet Room on his 54th birthday, according to one attendee. The president "meticulously" made his case for loosening sanctions on Tehran in exchange for stricter inspections of its nuclear sites, the person said, CNN reported.

Obama's appeal came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vigorously opposes the deal, made his own pitch to American Jews via webcast earlier in the day.

Both sides are trying to win the support of Jewish voters as lawmakers decide whether to back the deal ahead of a vote on the issue in mid-September.

The White House session -- described by attendees as "serious" and "cordial" but at times "contentious" -- lasted more than two hours. Vice President Joe Biden, who the White House has dispatched to sell the deal to lawmakers, also attended. Participating groups included the Anti-Defamation League, Orthodox Union and J Street.

The most intense moment during the early evening session came when several of the Jewish leaders confronted Obama on his recent comments that opposing the Iran deal is tantamount to supporting war with Iran.

The leaders said Obama's language could be damaging to the American Jewish community -- and made a direct appeal that the debate over the Iran nuclear accord not be framed that way.

Obama responded that he was mindful and sensitive to those concerns but underlined that he truly believes if the deal is struck down, war could be in short order.

Jewish leaders who attended said the president repeatedly rejected the notion that a better deal could be had, and he warned that if the agreement fails, Iran could obtain a nuclear bomb in months.

Iran denies the charge it may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability under the guise of a civilian program, saying the work is entirely for peaceful applications such as generating electricity.

"He (Obama) really stuck to his guns and challenged people on that" notion of a better deal, a source at the meeting said.

Obama, another attendee said, was the "most passionate I've ever seen him."

***Consequential Debate

As part of the administration's push, Obama was also scheduled to deliver remarks at American University in Washington on Wednesday detailing the advantages of pursuing diplomacy with Iran.

A White House official said Obama would "frame the congressional decision about whether to block the implementation of the deal… as the most consequential foreign policy debate since the decision to go to war in Iraq."

"He will make the case that this should not even be a close call -- this deal has the most comprehensive inspections and transparency regime that we've ever negotiated," the official said.

"He will point out that the same people who supported war in Iraq are opposing diplomacy with Iran, and that it would be an historic mistake to squander this opportunity -- removing constraints on the Iranian program, unraveling the sanctions regime, and damaging American credibility," the official continued.