Obama defends comparing Republicans to Iranian hardliners

Updated

President Obama stood by his claim that Republicans opposed to the Iran nuclear deal are making common cause with the most anti-western powers in Iranian society, in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday.

“What I said is absolutely true factually,” Obama said. “The truth of the matter is, inside of Iran, the people most opposed to the deal are the Revolutionary Guard, the Quds Force, hardliners who are implacably opposed to any cooperation with the international community. And there’s a reason for that, because they recognize that if, in fact, this deal gets done, that rather than them being in the driver’s seat with respect to the Iranian economy, they are in a weaker position.”

Related: Obama says Iran deal is most important foreign policy debate since Iraq war

Obama implied that Republican opposition to the deal derived from similar political motives, saying, “And so the reason that Mitch McConnell and the rest of the folks in his caucus who oppose this jumped out and opposed it before they even read it, before it was even posted, is reflective of a ideological commitment not to get a deal done.”

Obama had made the comparison in a speech at American University on Wednesday, in which he delivered a lengthy point-by-point rebuttal of the criticisms launched by opponents of the deal.

He reiterated many of these rebuttals in his interview with Zakaria, saying, “If you look at the facts, the merits of this deal, then you will conclude that not only does it cut off a pathway for Iran getting a nuclear weapon, but it also establishes the most effective verification and inspection regime that’s ever been put in place.”

Politically, Obama’s case was made both stronger and weaker in the intervening days.

On Thursday, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said he would vote to reject the Iran deal – a significant blow, as Schumer is widely viewed as the leading candidate to replace Harry Reid of Nevada as the leader of the Democratic caucus in the Senate.

But Obama got a boost Saturday morning, when 29 of the nation’s top nuclear scientists praised in the deal in a letter, calling the agreement “innovative and stringent.”

After detailing the virtues of the deal, Obama warned Zakaria of the long-term costs of rejecting it.

Related: Schumer’s opposition raises nuke deal stakes

The president argued that, were Congress to reject the deal, it would not only enhance Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon but hurt America’s ability to play a leading role on any matter of international diplomacy in the future.

“The issue here – and I’ve said this to members of Congress – is not simply the deal itself,” Obama said. “The issue … is does the rest of the world take seriously the United States’ ability to craft international agendas, to reach international agreements, to deliver on them in ways that garner the respect and the adherence from other countries?”

Obama argued that if the international community lost its confidence in the U.S. as a diplomatic power, “it will become a much more dangerous world. That’s why I don’t intend to lose on this.”

Barack Obama, Iran and Senate Republicans

Obama defends comparing Republicans to Iranian hardliners

Updated