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Washington — President Barack Obama and the White House on Wednesday urged the public and undecided members of Congress to back a deal aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some form of war,” Obama said at a speech at American University.

Obama invoked the Iraq war — the thousands of U.S. lives lost and military personnel injured and the $1 trillion cost in emphasizing why it is necessary to get the issue right. He said the case for the deal is overwhelming. It’s not even close,” Obama said. “If Iran cheats, we can catch them and we will.”

The president derided some critics as “armchair nuclear scientists” and some Republicans for immediately denouncing the agreement before they had even read it. He also pointedly noted that only Israel has spoken publicly against the agreement. “Without this deal, Iran will be in a position ... to steadily advance its capabilities.”

“The question is not whether to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but how,” Obama said. He emphasized his preference is for a peaceful agreement. He says the deal cuts off all pathways to a possible nuclear weapon, saying Iran will get rid of 98 percent of its enriched uranium for 15 years. “There will be 24/7 of Iran’s key nuclear facilities,” Obama said. “By killing this deal, Congress would not merely pave Iran’s pathway to a bomb, it would accelerate it.”

He compared Iranian critics to Republicans. It’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo. It’s those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus,” Obama said.

It brought criticism from Republicans. GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush said “this deal paves the way to Iran getting the bomb and gives $150 billion to the mullahs. That’s not leadership.”

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said “Obama's speech today is just another example of his reliance on endless strawmen to divert attention from his failed policies.

“...What we object to is the president's lack of realism – his ideological belief that diplomacy is good and force is bad, which has repeatedly resulted either in failed deals or bad deals. The alternative to this deal was never war; it was greater pressure on Iran and insistence on a better agreement.”

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a Detroit News interview that the agreement would ensure the United States could track the Iranian nuclear supply chain for 25 years.

He said there were some areas where the U.S. would have liked longer timeframes, but had to give to make a deal.

“Restrictions that we have for 10 years — sure we would like 20 (years), 15 years, we would have liked 30 (years) — but that’s what a negotiation is,” Moniz said. “The important point is all of the core objectives have been met. ... We already have the legendary better deal.”

Moniz said if Congress rejects the deal, the United States could have the worst of all worlds: Iran getting relief from crippling economic sanctions and no nuclear inspection program.

Obama said inspectors will get access to potential nuclear sites — even if Iran objects. And he vowed to continue to press for the release of imprisoned Americans — including Michigan Marine Amir Hekmati.

Michigan’s two senators — Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township — both remain undecided.

Last month, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, the most senior Jewish member of the House, said he backed the Iran nuclear deal.

In an interview Wednesday, Levin praised the president's speech, saying he “stated his firm commitment to respond to any actions by Iran and showed strong support for Israel. It was his most passionate speech that's occurred in a long time.”

The proposed agreement negotiated between Iran and the Obama administration as well as five other world powers has come under criticism from Republican congressional leaders, who are upset that the White House took the agreement first to the United Nations for a quick approval instead of heading to Congress for a 60-day review.

Republican critics say the deal frees up billions of dollars for Iran to pursue further terrorism in the Middle East, while doing little to reduce or prevent Iran from gaining the ability to produce nuclear weapons near the end of the deal in a decade.

The Republicans, who control both the Senate and House, are likely to reject the agreement. Obama promises to veto such a move, meaning a united GOP congressional front would need 43 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats to join them to override the veto.

Among the Michigan delegation, Levin joins Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, and Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, in favor of the deal. Democratic Reps. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield and Debbie Dingell of Dearborn remain undecided.

“The president is right: If Congress walks away from this agreement, Iran gets the better deal. The goal of negotiations has always been to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That’s why I first supported giving diplomacy a chance, and why I support the nuclear agreement with Iran,” Kildee said Tuesday. “Negotiated agreements are never perfect, especially with a long-standing adversary like Iran. You don’t negotiate peace with your friends. The fact remains that this diplomatic resolution is the only viable path to stop Iran’s military nuclear program. As I see it, no one has presented a credible alternative.”

In Michigan, a group in favor of the deal called Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran has bought at least $236,000 in TV ads in the Detroit market in the past month pushing for public support of the Iran nuclear deal.

Most of Michigan’s nine House Republicans have blasted the deal between Iran and world powers including Russia, China, France and Britain.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

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