US President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended the agreement reached with Iran over its nuclear program, making it clear that the purpose of the deal was simply to prevent the Islamic Republic from attaining nuclear weapons – not to curb its global power.
Congress still needs to sign off on the deal, which could result in a fierce battle in the legislature. In an exclusive New York Times interview, Obama said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “perhaps thinks he can further influence the congressional debate" but that he was confident the agreement would be approved.
"But after that’s done, if that’s what he thinks is appropriate, then I will sit down, as we have consistently throughout my administration, and then ask some very practical questions: How do we prevent Hezbollah from acquiring more sophisticated weapons? How do we build on the success of Iron Dome, which the United States worked with Israel to develop and has saved Israeli lives?
"In the same way I’m having conversation with the gulf countries about how do we have a more effective interdiction policy, how do we build more effective governance structures and military structures in Sunni areas that have essentially become a void that (the Islamic State) has filled or that, in some cases, Iranian activities can exploit?”
The White House on Tuesday announced that Obama would send Defense Secretary Ash Carter to the Middle East next week. The only confirmed stop on the trip was Israel, although officials said Carter would also visit other countries in the region.
US Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night, saying the Israeli leader's claims about the deal were "way over the top."
"This is under attack by people who really don't know the terms of the agreement," Kerry told NBC News.
"What the critics of this plan never offer... is a realistic alternative," he said, displaying evident frustration. "It's wrong for people to think this doesn't have long-term accountability."
Netanyahu dubbed the agreement a "stunning historic mistake," saying the world was now a "much more dangerous place" as a result.
Kerry rejected these comments, saying, Netanyahu "said the same thing about the interim agreement, and he was wrong. The fact is that he's been practically making comments that are way over the top. He doesn't even know what the concessions are that we have not engaged in, because we haven't made concessions."
"Israel is safer," the top American diplomat determined.
Under the deal, sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations will be lifted in return for Iran agreeing long-term curbs on a nuclear program that the West has suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb.
Iran will mothball for at least a decade the majority of its centrifuges used to enrich uranium and sharply reduce its low-enriched uranium stockpile.
US President Barack Obama hailed the deal as a step toward a "more hopeful world."
"This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction," Obama said. "We should seize it."
Obama called Netanyahu on Tuesday, telling him that the Iran nuclear deal won't lessen US concerns about Iran's support for terrorism and its threats toward Israel.
Obama reiterated that the deal, in his view, will prevent Iran from becoming nuclear-armed, which is of interest to both the US and Israel, and said a planned visit to Israel next week by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter is a reflection of the high level of security cooperation between the two allies.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also criticized Israel's opposition to the deal. "This is a responsible deal and Israel should also take a closer look at it and not criticize the agreement in a very coarse way," Steinmeier told German broadcaster ARD in an interview.
Steinmeier said the basis for the agreement was transparency and the ability to monitor Iran's compliance. "In the agreement, Iran has to commit to these monitoring possibilities. And we will make sure that the monitoring possibilities are also observed after this deal," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.