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Iran nuclear deal: President Barack Obama's legacy moment on Iran

By Conor Finnegan, CNN
updated 11:38 AM EST, Sun November 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Will the agreement be enough to help distract the public from the Obamacare rollout debacle?
  • 56% of Americans said they'd favor the kind ultimately reached
  • There are drawbacks as well
  • It complicates Obama's relationship with Israel

(CNN) -- These are troubled times for President Barack Obama.

He's a lame duck president. The latest CNN/ORC poll has his approval rating at 41% -- the lowest of his presidency. And the Affordable Care Act, his signature legislation, has been hobbled by the botched and much maligned rollout of the signup website.

So, the historic deal that Iran reached with six world powers over Tehran's nuclear program couldn't come at a better time.

20 questions about the Iran nuclear deal

"Today, diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure," Obama said in a televised address from the East Room of the White House, after the deal was announced. "A future in which we can verify that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon."

Chief negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iran's foreign minister announce agreement on Iran's nuclear program early on Sunday, November 24 in Geneva. Chief negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iran's foreign minister announce agreement on Iran's nuclear program early on Sunday, November 24 in Geneva.
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Photos: Iran nuclear deal reached Photos: Iran nuclear deal reached
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But will the agreement be enough to help distract the public from the Obamacare rollout debacle and potentially improve his image?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Read the deal (.PDF)

In a CNN/ORC poll released Thursday, 56% of Americans said they'd favor the kind of interim deal with Iran that was eventually reached. Another 39% said they'd oppose it.

The agreement -- described as an "initial, six-month" deal -- includes "substantial limitations that will help prevent Iran from creating a nuclear weapon," according to the president.

"Simply put, they cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb," he said.

But there are drawbacks as well.

Kerry: Israel is safe under new deal

The deal complicates Obama's relationship with Israel, a key ally in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly oppose any deal, and the Israeli government had strong words Sunday.

"The current deal ... is more likely to bring Iran closer to having a bomb," Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close Netanyahu associate said. "Israel cannot participate in the international celebration, which is based on Iranian deception and the world self-delusion."

A senior administration official told reporters, "You can be sure that President Obama will speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu" on Sunday.

The President also faces skepticism from Congress, where there were talks of increased sanctions as recently as this week.

Netanyahu: Iran nuclear deal 'historic mistake'

The deal says that the U.S. will provide $6 to $7 billion in sanction relief in exchange. And Obama can do so by executive order -- bypassing Congress altogether.

Reactions poured in late Saturday night, with Republicans slamming the administration for appeasing the Iranian regime.

"This deal appears to provide the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions that neither fully freeze nor significantly roll back its nuclear infrastructure," said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois.

Fareed Zakaria: What critics are getting wrong about the Iran deal

U.S.-Iranian relations have been thawing for months now, since the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran's seventh president in June. A senior administration official confirmed Saturday that since the election, U.S. and Iranian officials have been holding private, previously secret discussions to generate ideas for the wider nuclear negotiations.

The d├ętente climaxed in a telephone conversation between Obama and Rouhani this fall during the United Nations General Assembly -- the highest contact between leaders of the two countries since the Islamic revolution that led to the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.

"While today's announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal," Obama said. "For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program and key parts of the program will be rolled back,"

Ultimately, however, the outcome -- and part of Obama's legacy -- hinges on what happens next: Negotiations will continue over the next six months to reach a comprehensive solution to the Iran's nuclear program.

"The success of interim deals will be measured in months and years, not in minutes," said Karim Sadjadpour, a leading researcher on Iran for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

All eyes, of course, will be on the president through then.

One agreement, wildly different reactions

CNN's Jim Acosta, Jim Sciutto, and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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