WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama and his top diplomat are seeking support for a recent temporary agreement to halt Iran's nuclear programs and U.S. efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.
The president and Secretary of State John Kerry sought Saturday to convince critics and the Israeli government that recent diplomatic moves will not endanger Israel.
President Obama says he sees the chance of a final agreement on Iran's nuclear program as 50-50 (50 percent) or less. But he sought to reassure critics that the latest deal will stop Iran from advancing its nuclear program for the next six months.
Obama said, "What we can achieve through a diplomatic resolution of this situation is, frankly, greater than what we could achieve with the other options that are available to us."
At the Saban Forum Saturday, the president said the deal rolls back key parts of Iran's nuclear program.
"To give us the time and the space to test whether they can move in a direction - a comprehensive, permanent agreement that would give us all assurances that they're not producing nuclear weapons," said Obama.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who says the agreement is too soft on Iran, speaks to the forum on Sunday.
Obama pledged that the United States will always defend Israel.
"We will not abide by any threats to our friends and allies in the region, and we've made that perfectly clear," said Obama. "And our commitment to Israel's security is sacrosanct, and they understand that."
At the same forum, Secretary of State Kerry said diplomacy is the best way to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran.
Kerry said, "I am convinced beyond any doubt that Israel becomes safer the moment this first-step agreement is implemented."
Kerry has just returned from talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He said the U.S. is committed to helping to produce a Middle East peace agreement.
"Peace is possible today because we have courageous leaders who have already taken significant political risks for peace, and the time is approaching when they will have to take even more," said Kerry.
The president expressed similar optimism on the peace process.
Obama said, "I think it is possible, over the next several months, to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail, but gets us to a point where everybody recognizes that it's better to move forward than to move backward."
Obama said his administration had spent much time working with Netanyahu to understand Israel's security needs as part of any possible two-state solution.