WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran could become a “very successful regional power” if Tehran agrees to a long-term deal to curb its nuclear program, President Barack Obama said in an interview with NPR News.
“They’ve got a chance to get right with the world,” Obama said in the interview, which was taped at the White House on Dec. 18 and is set to air this week.
More than a year ago, Iran agreed to an interim plan to halt higher-level uranium enrichment in exchange for a limited easing in financial sanctions pending negotiations on a long-term deal. Those talks have now been extended to next June.
Iran has said its nuclear program is for peaceful energy use, but the United States and five other powers want to make sure that Tehran cannot quickly develop nuclear weapons.
Obama told NPR that Iran should seize the chance of a deal that could lift crippling sanctions.
“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 was also abiding by international norms and international rules - and that would be good for everybody,” he said.
Obama insisted a nuclear deal was possible, although Vice President Joe Biden earlier this month said he thought there was a “less than even shot” of an agreement.
Obama said he recognized that Iran has “legitimate defense concerns” after it “suffered from a terrible war with Iraq” in the 1980s. But he criticized Tehran for its “adventurism, the support of organizations like Hizbollah, the threats they’ve directed at Israel.”
Asked whether he would use his last two years in office to help rebuild war-torn countries, Obama said it was up to countries like Libya, Syria and Iraq to take the lead.
“We can help, but we can’t do it for them,” Obama said. “I think the American people recognize that. There are times here in Washington where pundits don’t; they think you can just move chess pieces around the table.
“And whenever we have that kind of hubris, we tend to get burned,” he said.
Obama rejected the idea of “devoting another trillion dollars” to sending U.S. combat troops to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq.
“We need to spend a trillion dollars rebuilding our schools, our roads, our basic science and research here in the United States,” he said.
Obama said he hoped to be able to work with Congress on shared economic goals. But he said he expected Republicans would pass some bills he will oppose, particularly on health care and the environment.
“I haven’t used the veto pen very often since I’ve been in office,” Obama said. “Now I suspect there are going to be some times where I’ve got to pull that pen out.”
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by David Storey and Dan Grebler