President Barack Obama speaks about Iran, US and Israel relations in the Middle East at the 10th Anniversary Saban Forum hosted by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, on Dec. 7, 2013.
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Obama defends nuclear deal with Iran

Updated

President Obama on Saturday defended the recently brokered Iran nuclear deal, arguing that a diplomatic approach was worth pursuing even if a long-term agreement never materializes.

If the six-month deal reached late last month in Geneva to restrict Iran’s nuclear capabilities doesn’t stick, the U.S. and its allies can ratchet up the sanctions they agreed to ease, Obama added.

“If and when Iran shows itself to not be negotiating in good faith, we can reverse [the sanctions] and tighten them even further,” Obama said at the Brookings Institute’s Saban Forum.

The president denounced what he characterized as the “all or nothing” stance taken by critics of the deal, such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called for tougher sanctions. “If it turns out we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off,” Obama said.

While Obama pushed back against the argument that easing sanctions and negotiating with Iran only emboldens the Iranian government in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, he admitted that there is still little trust between Washington and Tehran.

“Precisely because we don’t trust the nature of the Iranian regime, we have to be more realistic,” he said of the Iranian government, currently headed by President Hassan Rouhani, a more moderate leader whose election marked a major shift in relations between the two countries.

But Rouhani’s election “represents a desire on the part of the Iranian people for a change of direction,” the president added. “We should not underestimate or entirely dismiss a shift in how the Iranian people want to interact with the world.”

Despite the diplomatic progress seen in recent weeks, the president pegged the chances of a long-term deal with Iran at only about 50-50. “But we have to try,” he said.

Obama reassured the audience, which included Israeli politicians and journalists, that protecting Israel’s security interests remains a top priority for the U.S., and said that he and Netanyahu have had “constant consultations” on security issues during the president’s time in office. “Cooperation with Israel has never been stronger,” Obama said.

Secretary of State John Kerry echoed the president’s tone in his keynote address Saturday evening, declaring that the U.S. is approaching final negotiations with Iran “with our eyes wide open.” Still, Kerry said he believes Israel will be safer “the first day” the preliminary nuclear deal is implemented.
MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, 12/7/13, 4:53 PM ET

Obama defends Iran deal

Kristen Welker reports on President Obama’s remarks at the Saban Forum, where he addressed US-Israeli relations and skepticism on the Iran deal.

Obama defends nuclear deal with Iran

Updated