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Washington : U.S. President Barack Obama defended a framework nuclear agreement with Iran as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to prevent a bomb and bring longer-term stability to the Middle East. He insisted the U.S. would stand by Israel if it were to come under attack, but acknowledged that his pursuit of diplomacy with Tehran has caused strain with the close ally.

“It’s been a hard period,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He added that it is “personally difficult” for him to hear his administration accused of not looking out for Israel’s interests.

“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk,” he said, citing his overtures to Cuba and Myanmar as other examples of his approach.

Mr. Obama argued that successful negotiations presented the most effective way to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but insisted he would keep all options on the table if Tehran were to violate the terms.

“I’ve been very clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch, and I think they should understand that we mean it,” Mr. Obama said. “But I say that hoping that we can conclude this diplomatic arrangement and that it ushers a new era in U.S.-Iranian relations and, just as importantly, over time, a new era in Iranian relations with its neighbours.”

The President said there are many details that still need to be worked out with the Iranians and cautioned that there would be “real political difficulties” in implementing an agreement in both countries. He reiterated his opposition to a legislation that would give the U.S. Congress final say in approving or rejecting a deal, but said he hoped to find a path to allow Congress to “express itself.”

On the substance of the Iran framework agreement, Mr. Obama outlined more specifics of how the U.S. would seek to verify that Tehran wasn’t cheating. He said there would be an “international mechanism” that would assess whether there needed to be an inspection at a suspicious site and could overrule Iranian objections.


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