President Obama made his case yesterday for the pending Iran nuclear deal and essentially put it this way: While he respects Israel's concerns, and doesn't totally trust Iran, he's the leader of a massive military superpower that can afford to take a chance on diplomacy—a chance that, he argues, gives America the best shot at monitoring Iran's nuclear program. He also called the firestorm surrounding negotiations "personally difficult" and said that "this has been as hard as anything I do." Among the highlights from his talk with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman:
- On Israel: "What you might hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu, which I respect, is the notion, 'Look, Israel is more vulnerable. We don’t have the luxury of testing these propositions the way you do,'" Obama says. But he is "absolutely committed" to seeing Israelis "maintain their qualitative military edge," and wants other countries, including Iran, to know "that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them."
- On Iran: The US has seen "a practical streak to the Iranian regime. I think they are concerned about self-preservation." Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is "a pretty tough read" and laces his letters with "reminders of what he perceives as past grievances against Iran," but sees that sanctions were "weakening Iran over the long term."
- A military strike: "Strikes can set back Iran’s nuclear program for a period of time—but almost certainly will prompt Iran to rush towards a bomb, will provide an excuse for hard-liners inside of Iran to say, 'This is what happens when you don’t have a nuclear weapon: America attacks.'"
- The pending deal includes "rolling back" Iran's nuke program for 10 years and inspecting it for 20 years "along the entire nuclear chain." A "procurement committee" will examine Iranian imports "that they might claim as dual-use," and inspectors will be allowed to go "anyplace" in Iran pending approval by "some sort of international mechanism."
- How he's holding up: "It has been personally difficult for me to hear ... expressions that somehow ... this administration has not done everything it could to look out for Israel’s interest."
- On Congress' role: Obama says he should maintain the right to make international deals, but hopes that "we can find something that allows Congress to express itself but does not encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives."
See the Times for Obama's full remarks, including video footage. (Read more President Obama stories.)