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Obama: Blocking Deal Damages US Credibility
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Obama: Blocking Deal Damages US Credibility

US President Barack Obama warned Congress on Wednesday that rejecting the Iran nuclear deal would damage the US credibility and increase the likelihood of more war in the Middle East.

Besides challenging opponents at home, Obama cast Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an isolated international opponent of the historic accord, saying, "I do not doubt his sincerity, but I believe he is wrong," the AP reported.

The agreement would require Iran to limit parts of its nuclear program for about a decade in exchange for sanctions relief. Netanyahu and some critics in the US say the deal will not curb Iran's nuclear activities, which Tehran says are entirely for peaceful purposes, in the long run.

Obama's blunt remarks, in an hour-long address at American University, were part of an intense lobbying campaign by the White House ahead of Congress' vote next month to either approve or disapprove the international agreement. Opponents of the agreement have streamed to Capitol Hill to make their case, and they have spent tens of millions of dollars on advertisements.

The stakes are high, Obama said, stressing, "America's credibility as the anchor of the international system" is on the line.

"The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some form of war," Obama said.

Obama's diplomatic overtures to Iran, a centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda, have put him at odds with Republicans and some Democrats, as well as with Netanyahu, who has campaigned vigorously against the deal.

He linked critics of the deal to those who pushed for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a conflict now widely considered a mistake.

"I have repeatedly challenged anyone opposed to this deal to put forward a better, plausible alternative," he said. "I have yet to hear one. What I've heard instead are the same types of arguments that we heard in the run-up to the Iraq war."

Drawing on more distant history, Obama said the Iran deal was in line with America's long tradition of "strong, principled diplomacy" with adversaries, including the former Soviet Union. He spoke at the same university where John F. Kennedy called for Cold War diplomacy and nuclear disarmament.

The White House is preparing for the likelihood that lawmakers will vote against the deal and is focusing its lobbying efforts on getting enough Democrats to sustain a presidential veto. Only one chamber of Congress is needed to sustain a veto and keep the deal in place.

***Blows for White House  

Meanwhile, Obama's hopes of preserving the deal were dealt a setback when Chuck Schumer, one of the top Democrats in the US Senate, said he would oppose the agreement, Reuters reported.

Schumer's opposition, announced in a lengthy statement on Thursday, could pave the way for more of Obama's fellow Democrats to come out against the pact.

The New York senator is among the most influential Jewish lawmakers in the United States. He was the first Senate Democrat to announce his opposition to the agreement.

Another influential Jewish lawmaker, US Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, also said on Thursday he would oppose the nuclear pact.

Schumer insisted he was not influenced by party or politics and had not been pressured.

"Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed. This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval."

Republicans would need at least 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 in the House to vote against Obama to muster the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a veto. So, while Thursday's announcements are a blow to the president, opponents of the deal still face an uphill battle to enact a disapproval resolution.

Several Democrats in both the House and Senate have already come out in favor of the nuclear deal, including Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. Schumer's colleague from New York, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, announced her support on Thursday.

 

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