Barack Obama has urged Iran to keep its nuclear program on hold for at least a decade, as part of a possible deal to ease sanctions. His words preceded a speech to Congress by Israel's premier, opposing such an accord.
Obama said Iran would need to commit to a deal freezing its enrichment capability below the "breakout capability" needed to produce nuclear weapons.
The US president took issue with Israeli objections to the deal, saying it was the best way to prevent Iran from ever producing a nuclear bomb.
In an interview with Reuters, Obama said he hoped Iran would agree to "double-digit years of keeping their program where it is right now and, in fact, rolling back elements of it."
"If we've got that, and we've got a way of verifying that, there's no other steps we can take that would give us such assurance that they don't have a nuclear weapon," he said.
The president said the aim was to keep Iran at least a year away from ever achieving the "breakout capacity" of fissile material it would need to produce a weapon.
"As long as we've got that one-year breakout capacity, that ensures us that we can take military action to stop them," Obama said.
Fissile material is produced by enrichment, and an interim agreement already places a limit on the level of enrichment Iran is allowed to undertake. Tehran says it has no intention of producing a weapon and that its enrichment program is for purely peaceful purposes.
'No permanent damage'
Obama also attempted to downplay any diplomatic damage that might follow a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress, saying it would not be "permanently destructive." Netanyahu's speech has been described as part of a last-ditch bid to derail the accord, which forms a key part of Obama's foreign policy.
The White House says the president will not meet the Israeli premier while he is in Washington, in accordance with protocol ahead of an Israeli general election. US leaders do not meet with foreign heads of government ahead of national elections.
Israel fears any deal with Iran might be insufficient and still allow the Islamic Republic to develop a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu has said an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons would prove an existential threat to Israel.
The Republican chairman and top Democrat from the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee were on Monday circulating a bipartisan letter to Obama raising their concerns about a prospective deal.
Chairman Ed Royce and Democrat representative Eliot Engel released the draft citing concern about the size of Iran's current uranium enrichment program. They claim Congress must be convinced that Iran would have no way of developing a nuclear weapon, and they want "decades-long," verifiable constraints on Iran's program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said last month it was not satisfied that Iran was fully cooperating with an investigation into its nuclear program.
rc/bk (AP, Reuters)