WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday touted the framework agreement on Iran's nuclear program as a "good deal" that would block Tehran from obtaining an atomic weapon and make the world safer - a better option than another Middle East war.
Shortly after the agreement was announced in Switzerland after marathon negotiations between Iran and world powers, Obama strode into the White House Rose Garden to promote the deal to the American public and skeptical U.S. lawmakers.
"So when you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question," Obama said. "Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world's major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?"
Since 2001, the United States has fought long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, with instability throughout the Middle East, is carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State militant group.
Republican critics and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have spoken out strongly against a deal with Iran.
Obama listed three options for curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. The first, he said, was "a robust and verifiable deal like this one" that would "peacefully prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
"The second option is: we can bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, thereby starting another war in the Middle East and setting back Iran's program by a few years - in other words, setting it back by a fraction of the time that this deal will set it back."
The third option, Obama said, was to pull out of negotiations, try to get other countries to continue economic sanctions against Iran "and hope for the best."
The negotiated agreement "is our best option by far," Obama argued.
The Democratic president said that if the Republican-led U.S. Congress kills the deal without offering any reasonable alternative, "then it's the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy."
Obama said he had spoken with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite Muslim Iran's main Sunni regional rival, and would soon speak with Netanyahu and U.S. congressional leaders.
Obama called the framework deal a historic one that cuts off every pathway Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.
"If this framework leads to a final comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies and our world safer," he said.
"It is a good deal," Obama said.
Obama acknowledged a "difficult history" between the United States and Iran. The United States backed a 1953 coup that ousted Iran's democratically elected prime minister. Iranian revolutionaries who overthrew the U.S.-backed shah in 1979 took American diplomats hostage.
Obama said this deal alone would not end the deep U.S.-Iranian divisions and mistrust.
"And our concerns will remain with respect to Iranian behavior so long as Iran continues its sponsorship of terrorism, its support for proxies who destabilize the Middle East, its threats against America's friends and allies, like Israel," Obama said.
Obama said there was always the possibility Iran would try to cheat on the deal. But if it did so, he said, the agreement's framework of inspections and transparency would make it far more likely the United States would know about it, and any U.S. president would still have "all of the options that are currently available to deal with it."
Additional reporting by Julia Edwards and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Howard Goller