Obama on Iran deal in Trump Presidency

November 15, 2016

At a press conference on November 14, President Obama discussed how the 2016 election might affect the historic Iran nuclear deal. The following is an excerpt of a question about the deal’s future after Donald Trump assumes the presidency and Obama’s reply.

Q: President-elect Trump threatened to unravel the Iran nuclear deal that your administration worked very hard to get.  What would be a concern if he alters part of it?  And what would your advice be, considering that he said he’s open to advice? 

THE PRESIDENT:  Iran is a good example of the gap I think between some of the rhetoric in this town -- not unique to the President-elect -- and the reality.  I think there was a really robust debate about the merits of the Iran deal before it was completed.  And I actually was pretty proud of how our democracy processed that.  It was a serious debate.  I think people of goodwill were on both sides of the issue.  Ultimately, we were able to persuade members of Congress and the public -- at least enough of them -- to support it.

At the time, the main argument against it was Iran wouldn’t abide by the deal, that they would cheat.  We now have over a year of evidence that they have abided by the agreement.  That's not just my opinion, it's not just people in my administration.  That's the opinion of Israeli military and intelligence officers who are part of a government that vehemently opposed the deal. 

So my suspicion is, is that when the President-elect comes in, and he’s consulting with his Republican colleagues on the Hill, that they will look at the facts.  Because to unravel a deal that's working and preventing Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon would be hard to explain -- particularly if the alternative were to have them freed from any obligations and go ahead and pursue a weapon. 

And keep in mind this is not just an international agreement between us and the Iranians; this is between the P5+1, other countries, some of our closest allies.  And for us to pull out would then require us to start sanctioning those other countries in Europe or China or Russia that were still abiding by the deal because, from their perspective, Iran had done what it was supposed to do.

So it becomes more difficult I think to undo something that’s working than undo something that isn’t working.  And when you’re not responsible for it, I think you can call it a terrible deal.  When you are responsible for the deal and preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, you’re more likely to look at the facts… 

And so, again, do I think that the new administration will make some changes?  Absolutely.  But these international agreements, the tradition has been that you carry them forward across administrations, particularly if, once you actually examine them, it turns out that they’re doing good for us and binding other countries into behavior that will help us.