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Obama Defends Iranian Deal

Agreement Aimed at Curbing Nuclear Program

  • President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about immigration reform, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama is traveling on a three day West Coast swing to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles that will feature a bit of official business but mostly fundraising for the Democratic party. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about immigration reform, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama is traveling on a three day West Coast swing to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles that will feature a bit of official business but mostly fundraising for the Democratic party. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House about the nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran that calls on Tehran to limit its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. For President Barack Obama, the deal to temporarily freeze Iran's nuclear program could pave the way for one of his biggest foreign policy victories and steady his flailing presidency. But the venture is rife with risk, including possibly miscalculating Iran’s intentions and straining already tense relationships with Congress and Middle Eastern allies. AP photo

    President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House about the nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran that calls on Tehran to limit its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. For President Barack Obama, the deal to temporarily freeze Iran's nuclear program could pave the way for one of his biggest foreign policy victories and steady his flailing presidency. But the venture is rife with risk, including possibly miscalculating Iran’s intentions and straining already tense relationships with Congress and Middle Eastern allies. AP photo

  • President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform, Monday, Nov, 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. The president is invoking the Thanksgiving spirit in search of an immigration deal with Congress. The president says he's willing to go along with House Republicans who want to break immigration reform into pieces. That's a different approach than the Democratic-controlled Senate that passed a comprehensive bill including border security and a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants illegally in the US. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

    President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform, Monday, Nov, 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. The president is invoking the Thanksgiving spirit in search of an immigration deal with Congress. The president says he's willing to go along with House Republicans who want to break immigration reform into pieces. That's a different approach than the Democratic-controlled Senate that passed a comprehensive bill including border security and a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants illegally in the US. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama is traveling on a three day West Coast swing to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles that will feature a bit of official business but mostly fundraising for the Democratic party. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama is traveling on a three day West Coast swing to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles that will feature a bit of official business but mostly fundraising for the Democratic party. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about immigration reform, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama is traveling on a three day West Coast swing to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles that will feature a bit of official business but mostly fundraising for the Democratic party. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House about the nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran that calls on Tehran to limit its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. For President Barack Obama, the deal to temporarily freeze Iran's nuclear program could pave the way for one of his biggest foreign policy victories and steady his flailing presidency. But the venture is rife with risk, including possibly miscalculating Iran’s intentions and straining already tense relationships with Congress and Middle Eastern allies. AP photo
  • President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform, Monday, Nov, 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. The president is invoking the Thanksgiving spirit in search of an immigration deal with Congress. The president says he's willing to go along with House Republicans who want to break immigration reform into pieces. That's a different approach than the Democratic-controlled Senate that passed a comprehensive bill including border security and a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants illegally in the US. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
  • President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama is traveling on a three day West Coast swing to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles that will feature a bit of official business but mostly fundraising for the Democratic party. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Washington — Pushing back hard, President Obama forcefully defended the temporary agreement to freeze Iran’s disputed nuclear program on Monday, declaring that the United States “cannot close the door on diplomacy.”

The president’s remarks followed skepticism of the historic accord expressed by some U.S. allies abroad as well as by members of Congress at home, including fellow Democrats. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the fiercest opponents of the six-month deal, called it a “historic mistake” and announced he would be dispatching a top envoy to Washington to try to toughen the final agreement negotiators will soon begin hammering out.

Obama, without naming names, swiped at those who have questioned the wisdom of engaging with Iran.

“Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing to do for our security,” he said during an event in San Francisco.

The weekend agreement between Iran and six world powers — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — is to temporarily halt parts of Tehran’s disputed nuclear program and allow for more intrusive international monitoring. In exchange, Iran gains some modest relief from stiff economic sanctions and a pledge from Obama that no new penalties will be levied during the six months.

Despite the fanfare surrounding the agreement, administration officials say key technical details on the inspections and sanctions relief must still be worked out before it formally takes effect. Those talks will tackle the toughest issues that have long divided Iran and the West, including whether Tehran will be allowed to enrich uranium at a low level.

Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and many nuclear analysts say a final deal will almost certainly leave Iran with some right to enrich. However, that’s sure to spark more discord with Israel and many lawmakers who insist Tehran be stripped of all enrichment capabilities. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he expects the deal to be fully implemented by the end of January.

European Union officials say their sanctions could be eased as soon as December. Those restrictions affect numerous areas including trade in petrochemicals, gold and other precious metals, financial transfers to purchase food and medicine, and the ability of third countries to use EU-based firms to insure shipments of Iranian oil again.

The groundwork for the accord was laid during four clandestine meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials throughout the summer and fall. An earlier meeting took place in March, before Iranians elected President Hassan Rouhani, a cleric who has taken more moderate public stances than his predecessor. Details of the talks were confirmed by three senior administration officials.

The U.S. and its allies contend Iran is seeking to produce a nuclear bomb — of particular concern to Israel, which fears an attack — while Tehran insists it is merely pursuing a peaceful nuclear program for energy and medical purposes.

Even with the criticism, for Obama the sudden shift to foreign policy presents an opportunity to steady his flailing second term and take some attention off domestic troubles.