By Patrice Hill, RFE/RL
Iran Nuclear Deal (cartoon by Touka Neyestani)
U.S. President Barack Obama told supporters on July 30 that Democratic support in Congress for the Iran nuclear deal is "squishy" and they must work hard to counter an aggressive lobbying campaign against it.
In a call with groups affiliated with the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think-tank, Obama said activists who want peace must not make the same mistake they did in the run-up to the Iraq war, when proponents of the war drowned out their weaker voices.
"Right now the opponents of this deal have been flooding Congressional offices," pouring $20 million into television ads and "putting the squeeze" on legislators to vote against the deal, he said.
Under pressure from powerful lobbies like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, "they start getting squishy because they're feeling the political heat," he said.
The president, who has been aggressively courting Democrats, said legislators he's talked to say they want to vote for the deal, but cite the vigorous and loudly heard opposition, which has been beating a drumbeat against the agreement in virtually every social forum in the United States.
Obama said that many of the opponents are the same people who pushed the United States into war in Iraq in 2003.
"In the absence of your voices, you are going to see the same array of voices that got us into the Iraq war, leading to a situation in which we forgo a historic opportunity and we are back on the path of potential military conflict," he said.
Obama suggested the United States could be forced into a military confrontation with Iran within six months of backing out of the deal.
"The stakes could not be higher," he said.
Obama hopes the nuclear accord will become one of his most important legacies, but opposition in the United States has been unexpectedly strong.
"I've never been more certain about a policy decision than I am here," Obama said, explaining how the deal is designed to prevent Iran from acquiring the nuclear weapons he said it otherwise could develop within six months without the deal's constraints.
"But the politics here are going to be tough," he said. Not only are the vast majority of Republicans in Congress opposed and mobilizing to send him a resolution of disapproval in September, but support among Democrats has been slow to come.
Four Democrats voiced their support for the deal for the first time July 30, including Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a party leader in the House, and Michigan's Dan Kildee, who counts Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who is being held in Iran on espionage charges, as a constituent.
But Obama needs the support of many more -- at least one-third of the House and Senate -- to uphold his veto, should the GOP as expected send him a resolution of disapproval.
The pro-Israel lobby behind the multi-million dollar ad campaign argues that Iran cannot be trusted -- a contention that resonates with the public as opinion polls shows most Americans do not trust Iran to keep its promises.
Calling Iran's government a "brutal" regime, Obama conceded that Iran might try to cheat. But if it does, he said the deal gives the United States the leverage it needs to punish Iran harshly by sending its economy back into "depression."
"If they cheat, the sanctions will go back into place and their economy will go back into the tank," he said.
Every argument that's been made against the deal is either "inaccurate" or assumes the United States could have gotten a better deal by persuading Iran to forgo even peaceful development of nuclear power, he said.
"In the world of our dreams, that would be preferable," Obama said. "In the real world, this is a deal that gets the job done."
With reporting by AP and Reuters
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