Obama Says He Never Suggested Schumer, Other Iran Deal Critics Want War

President Barack Obama said in an interview published Monday that he respects the motives of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and some other opponents of the Iran nuclear deal.

“I don’t think somebody like a Chuck Schumer wants war,” Obama told Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of The Forward, a national Jewish newspaper. “That’s not the argument I was making.”

Schumer, who is the country’s highest-ranking Jewish elected official and widely expected to succeed Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as Senate Democratic leader in 2017, announced his opposition to the deal on Aug. 6, striking a blow to the White House’s efforts to ensure support for the accord in Congress.

Eisner had asked the president whether he had contributed to the “incendiary language” of a debate about the Iran deal’s merits by implying that opponents of the agreement were “warmongers.” The debate over the Iran deal has been especially contentious within the American Jewish community.

Obama stood by his previous insistence that the failure of the Iran nuclear deal would put the United States on course for a military confrontation with Iran. But he nonetheless said that he does not question the sincerity of many of the deal’s opponents, including Schumer. 

“But the point is that at no point have I ever suggested that those who are critical of the deal are ‘warmongers,’” Obama said. “What I’ve said is that if we reject the deal, the logical conclusion is that if we want to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, military strikes will be the last option remaining at some point. It may not be under my administration; it might be under the next one. And that is something that has to be taken into account in this debate.”

Obama is campaigning to ensure that the deal his administration and five other nations negotiated with Iran survives Congressional disapproval. The Republican-controlled House and Senate are expected to pass legislation disapproving of the deal, which Obama would then veto. Now Obama is fighting to lock up the votes needed to prevent Congress from overriding his veto.

Obama’s interview in The Forward is aimed at assuaging the concerns of members of the American Jewish community, whose resistance to the agreement may be contributing to the reluctance of some congressional Democrats to back the deal.

Suspicion about the deal in some corners of the Jewish community has been stoked by the bitter, public opposition of the current Israeli government to the agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the Iran agreement an “historic mistake,” making a controversial speech to Congress against the deal in March at the behest of Republican leadership. Many former senior Israeli security officials have, by contrast, expressed qualified support for the deal. 

Relations between the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s government have been strained by disagreements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well, prompting some observers to describe this as the lowest point in U.S.-Israeli relations in decades. 

The president took pains in the interview with Eisner to characterize the administration’s differences with the Israeli government as a dispute among “family.” He argued that U.S.-Israeli ties were deep enough to withstand occasional disagreements.

“The relationships between our peoples, the shared values, the shared commitment to democracy — those things are so deep that they have survived arguments in the past and they will survive this argument,” he said.

Also on HuffPost:

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.