Obama on Iran: “We cannot rule out peaceful solutions”

President Obama hailed a deal aimed at temporarily halting Iran’s nuclear program and urged supporters not to give up on diplomacy with the Middle Eastern nation in the hopes of reducing the “mistrust” that has existed for many years with the U.S.

Mr. Obama’s remarks on Monday came at the top of a speech about immigration reform at the Betty Ong Recreation Center in San Francisco. He is traveling on the West Coast fundraising and promoting his policy agenda in the days before Thanksgiving. 

“If Iran seizes this opportunity and chooses to join the global community then we can begin to chip away at the mistrust that’s existed for many, many years between our two nations,” Mr. Obama said of the agreement between the P5+1 nations and Iran, which will trade some sanctions relief in exchange for Iran ceasing its work to create a nuclear weapon. 

“We cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.  We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict. And tough talk and bluster may the easy thing to do politically but it’s not the right thing for our security.”

The administration is defending the deal against criticism from Congress and allies like Israel, who warn that Iran cannot be trusted.  Many members of Congress are still talking about ramping up U.S. sanctions, which could undermine the temporary deal that is supposed to pave the way for a long-term agreement.

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An attendee (back, 2nd R) heckles President Obama as he speaks on immigration reform at Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco, Nov. 25, 2013.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
What was a typical appeal from the president for Congress to pass immigration legislation nearly grew heated when an undocumented student from the University of California at Berkeley named Ju Hong, who was standing behind the president, began shouting that Mr. Obama should use his executive authority to halt all deportations that threaten to separate families. It’s a request that has been made before by immigration advocates who point to the fact that the president has deported immigrants in the U.S. illegally at a record rate, even though he supports a pathway to citizenship as part of immigration legislation. 

Mr. Obama said earlier this year that such a move would violate federal law, but he gave his most vehement response yet when he spoke directly to Hong and allowed him to remain in the speech.

“I respect the passion of these young people because they feel deeply about the concerns for their families,” Mr. Obama said.  “If in fact I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws -- that’s part of our tradition -- and so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws.”

“What I’m proposing is the harder path which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve, but it won’t be as easy as just shouting,” he said.

During the speech, Mr. Obama once again cast House Republicans as the only thing standing in the way of the passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, a refrain he has repeated many times this year. Earlier this fall, he called on the GOP to pass a reform bill before the end of the year, a scenario that is all but impossible given the mere two weeks that remain on the Congressional calendar in 2013.

He had kind words, though, for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio – words that will hardly help Boehner with his already unruly caucus. “I believe the speaker is sincere,” Mr. Obama said. “I believe he genuinely wants to get it done, and that’s something we should be thankful for this week.”

And in a nod to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and Boehner’s repeated insistence that the House will only tackle immigration legislation in a piecemeal fashion, Mr. Obama said, “It’s Thanksgiving, we can carve that bird into multiple pieces.” 

  • Rebecca Kaplan On Twitter»

    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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