WATCH: Obama Sits Down With NPR to Defend Iran Nuclear Deal

"When Ronald Reagan began discussions with Gorbachev, his conservative supporters wrote some really rough stuff about him as appeasing the evil empire," said President Obama in response to his Republican critics.

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NPR Transcript:

INSKEEP: But let's talk about the other side of that, what the world looks like if the deal is approved. Secretary of State Kerry said to us the other day that this nuclear deal will leave the United States, "absolutely", his word, absolutely freer to push back against Iran and its ambitions in the region. If you get the deal, what do you intend to do with that freedom?

OBAMA: With [THE NUCLEAR] issue resolved, although we will have to be vigilant through the inspection process and the verification process, although we will have a backstop in being able to exercise all options, including military, if Iran violated or cheated on the agreement, then an additional priority that we have is making sure that Iran ends some of the destabilizing activities that it's engaged in for a very long time, providing arms to Hezbollah to threaten Israel and our other allies in the region, making sure that through proxies, Iran is not engaging in destabilizing activities towards Gulf countries.

And to both Israel and our Gulf partners and allies in the region, what we've said to them is that we can handle those issues if we are more consistent, better organized in the things that are required to deal with those non-nuclear threats, those more conventional or low-grade threats.

For example, dealing with cyber-attacks, there are ways we can deal with those issues more effectively than we have. Dealing with a ballistic missile; making sure that missile defense systems are integrated and working properly. Making sure that there are special forces and other ground operations that can be carried out to support stabilizing efforts in places like Yemen.

So there are a whole host of areas where we can work together, and we are in fact in the process of consulting with those countries as we speak...

I've said, for example, that the Gulf countries; their combined defense spending is eight times Iran's. So the issue is not even if Iran is putting in additional dollars as a consequence of sanctions relief and an improved economy, Iran will continue to be outspent.

The question is are those resources deployed effectively and appropriately.

INSKEEP: I just want to be absolutely clear on this. 15 years from now, as some provisions expire, what is Iran's breakout time going to be?

OBAMA: Well, it shrinks back down to roughly where it is now.

INSKEEP: Which is close to zero?

OBAMA: Well, which is a matter of months. Because keep in mind that theoretical breakout times don't match up with practical breakout times. You know, you don't just get one nuclear weapon. You have to, you know, test, weaponize, miniaturize, mount on top of missiles, you know, it's a complicated piece of business.

INSKEEP: When we talk about the congressional debate, we should explain to people that it's being considered under rules where Congress has to affirmatively vote against the deal, meaning that you can get your way ultimately, even if a majority of Congress votes against it.

It seems likely a majority of Congress will vote against it.

OBAMA: Right.

INSKEEP: Are you entirely comfortable going forward with a historic deal knowing that most of the people's representatives are against it?

OBAMA: Well, what I know is, is that unfortunately, a large portion of the Republican party, if not a near unanimous portion of Republican representatives, are going to be opposed to anything that I do and I have not oftentimes based that on a judgment on the merits, but have based that on their politics.

That's true in health care, that's true in, you know, budget negotiations. That's been true on a whole host of things.

And I don't think that's a surprise to anybody. What I do know though is, is that when this agreement is implemented and we've seen centrifuges coming out of facilities like Fordow and Natanz, and we've got inspectors on the ground and it becomes clear that Iran in fact is abiding by this agreement, then attitudes will change, because people will recognize that, in fact, whatever parade of horribles was presented in opposition have not come true.

That, instead, what we've seen is an effective way to bind Iran to a commitment not to have nuclear weapons and, in that scenario, it'll probably be forgotten that Republicans uniformly opposed it.

Keep in mind that this is not unique to me, either, by the way. You know, when Ronald Reagan began discussions with Gorbachev, his conservative supporters wrote some really rough stuff about him as appeasing the evil empire, and this is a disaster, and we're giving America's power away.

And, to his credit, he had reversed himself from a -- a previously much more rigid position that had helped to define his political career.

So -- so my main interest right now is solving a problem, which is making sure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon, and I am confident that, as we see implementation, we will see, in fact, more and more folks pull out of the immediate politics of it and judge it on the basis of whether it was the right thing to do for the country.



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