US President Barack Obama on Wednesday confronted critics of the nuclear deal reached with Iran, saying they were at odds with “99 percent” of the world and had failed to offer a better alternative.
As the freshly inked deal was put to members of the UN Security Council, a combative and at times testy Obama said opponents at home and abroad had offered only a path to war.
“If 99 percent of the world community and the majority of nuclear experts look at this thing and they say this will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, and you are arguing either that it does not or that even if it does, it’s temporary… then you should have some alternative,” Obama said.
The issue is either resolved “diplomatically, through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force. Through war. Those are the options,” he said.
Obama’s Republican rivals, who hope to scupper the agreement in a planned Congressional vote, have accused him of appeasement.
He angrily rejected suggestions he was content to leave aside the issue of four Americans still detained or missing in Iran.
“The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails,” he said. “that’s nonsense.”
“Nobody is content, and our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out,” he added.
Obama also directed some of his sharpest comments at long-time ally Zionist entity, which has vociferously opposed the deal, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described it as a “historic mistake” and hinted at a possible military response.
“If somebody wants to make that debate,” Obama said, “whether it’s the Republican leadership or Prime Minister Netanyahu or the Israeli ambassador or others, they are free to make it, but it’s not persuasive.”
He was more conciliatory towards Gulf Arab states, whose concerns about the deal legitimizing Iran’s actions in the region have largely been voiced in private.
However, Obama said the agreement would not end “profound differences” with the Islamic republic.
“Iran still poses challenges to our interests and values,” the US leader told reporters.
Iran has always denied seeking an atomic bomb, a stance President Sheikh Hassan Rouhani reiterated after Tuesday’s agreement.
Under the deal, Iran will cut by about two-thirds the number of centrifuges – which can make fuel for nuclear power stations but also the core of a nuclear bomb – from around 19,000 to just over 6,000.
It has also agreed to allow the UN nuclear watchdog tightly controlled access to its military bases, an Iranian official said.
“We will take measures, and they will do their part,” Zarif told reporters at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport.