President Barack Obama told American Jewish leaders the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran is the best option for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, saying that “true friendship,” like that between the United States and Israel, allows room for debate.
Speaking in a live webcast Friday, the president delivered remarks about the disputed deal and how it will impact the relationship between the United States and Israel.
"We have been in discussions with the Israeli government for months now, to work to enhance our security cooperation, improve our intelligence and counteract Iranian proxies in the region," Obama said on the webcast.
The webcast was organized by two major Jewish organizations that have held similar events with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, one of the negotiators of the accord.
The president pushed back on the notion that the United States is seeking to enhance security cooperation with Israel as a way to compensate it for the potential dangers of the Iran deal.
He said getting back on track to enhance U.S.-Israel security cooperation, as well as looking at ways to improve intelligence and the next generations of missile defense are “all things that we should be doing anyway – even if we weren’t doing this debate on the Iranian deal.”
The Israeli government strenuously opposes the agreement, which seeks to keep Iran from building a nuclear bomb in exchange for international sanctions relief.
Obama said nothing in the nuclear agreement prevents the United States from continuing to push back forcefully against terrorist activity or other destabilizing acts in the region. “We are not normalizing relations with Iran,” he said.
The webcast aimed to address concerns from the American Jewish community as Congress debates passage of the deal, with many of the questions centering on the heated tone of the debate here in the United States and reaction to Israel.
The president responded, saying that it is “better to air these things out, even if these things are uncomfortable, as long as the tone is civil and we keep our eyes on the big picture which is that the fates of our countries are intertwined.”
He called for cold reasoning to prevail over emotion, saying “sometimes the best security is to enter into negotiations with your enemies.”
The nuclear agreement with Iran was reached in July after extensive negotiations with the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia.
Obama's sanctions chief, a top U.S. Treasury Department official who helped negotiate the accord, was scheduled to arrive Friday for a three-day visit in Israel just hours before the president's webcast
U.S. Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam Szubin will defend the nuclear containment deal and try to reassure Israel's government and public the United States is ready to impose tough financial penalties on Tehran for its sponsorship of terrorism and support for military proxies.
A U.S. Treasury Department spokesperson said Szubin will meet with Dore Gold, director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who has been a leading voice against the Iran deal.
Critics say the agreement makes too many concessions and could eventually allow for a nuclear-armed Iran.
The agreement faces a vote in Congress within weeks.