In an interview aired today, Dec. 29, US President Barack Obama said a nuclear deal with Iran is possible and could be the prelude to the gradual easing of hostilities between the two nations.
He said, however, that the situations with Iran and Cuba are not the same, as Cuba is a relatively tiny country that poses little threat to the United States, while Iran is a large country that has been a state sponsor of terrorism and has pursued nuclear weapons research. In addition, Obama said, elements in Iran oppose normalization with the United States, while other Iranian constituencies favor a rapprochement.
“If we can get a deal on making sure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon — and that deal is possible … If we can take that big first step, then my hope would be that that would serve as the basis for us trying to improve relations over time,” Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep, taped last week.
“But in order for us to … open that aperture with respect to Iran, we have to get this nuclear issue resolved — and there's a chance to do it,” Obama said. “The question's going to be whether or not Iran is willing to seize it.
“I think there are elements inside of Iran that recognize the opportunity and want to take it,” Obama said. “I think there's some hard-liners inside of Iran that are threatened by a resolution of this because they are so invested politically and emotionally in being anti-American or anti-Western that it's frightening for them to open themselves up to the world in this way.”
Asked if he foresaw opening a US Embassy in Iran in the last two years of his presidency, Obama said, “Never say never,” but added, “I think these things have to go in steps.”
Obama said he thinks he understood what Iran needed to get from a nuclear deal. Notably, he said he recognized that Iran does have legitimate defense concerns, but said those were separate from Iran’s support of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.
“What we've said to the Iranians is that we are willing to recognize your ability to develop a modest nuclear power program for your energy needs, that there's a way of doing that that nevertheless gives the world assurances that you don't have breakout capacity,” Obama said.
“And, you know, Iran suffered from a terrible war with Iraq in which millions of their countrymen were lost,” Obama said. “They have legitimate defense concerns, but those have to be separated out from the adventurism, the support of organizations like Hezbollah, the threats they've directed towards Israel."
He went on, “On the one hand, you need to understand what their legitimate needs and concerns are. On the other end, you don't need to tolerate or make excuses for positions that they've taken that violate international law, are contrary to US interests, are contrary to the interests of our allies.”
The Iranians have “got a chance to get right with the world,” Obama said. “They have a path to break through that isolation and they should seize it. Because if they do, there's incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of … Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power. … That would be good for the United States, that would be good for the region and most of all, it would be good for the Iranian people.”