02:11 - Source: CNN
Obama: Nuclear material doesn't 'hide in the closet'

Story highlights

Before the congressional review period expires in September, the administration has launched an aggressive lobbying effort for the deal.

Obama claimed that opponents of his agreement with Iran were deploying similar arguments as those used to go to war in Iraq.

Washington CNN —  

President Barack Obama issued a blistering rebuttal to opponents of the Iran nuclear deal as he sought to bolster congressional support for the agreement with a major speech on Wednesday.

He declared that lawmakers risk damaging American credibility if they vote to scuttle the deal and equated them with those who pushed for war with Iraq – and with the mullahs in Iran.

“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.

Using two points in history to underscore his argument – John F. Kennedy’s push for diplomacy with the Soviet Union and the vote to invade Iraq in 2002 – Obama warned that U.S. global standing was at stake.

“If Congress kills this is deal, we will lose more than just constraints on Iran’s nuclear program or the sanctions we have painstakingly built,” Obama said. “We will have lost something more precious: America’s credibility as a leader of diplomacy. America’s credibility as the anchor of the international system.”

READ: Obama tries to reassure American Jewish leaders on Iran

The decision facing lawmakers next month is the most significant since Congress voted to invade Iraq more than a decade ago, Obama said, insisting later that “some form of war” was assured if the Iran deal falls through.

The 2002 Iraq vote, which spawned foreign policy headaches for the past two administrations, was driven by war-hungry politicians, Obama claimed. He said Wednesday that opponents of his agreement with Iran were deploying similar arguments ahead of the September vote in Congress.

“None of these arguments hold up. They didn’t back in 2002 and 2003 and they shouldn’t now,” Obama said. “The same mind-set, in many cases offered by the same people who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong, led to a war that did more to strengthen Iran, more to isolate the United States, than anything we have done in the decades before or since.”

Obama was not a member of the U.S. Senate in 2002, but he has repeatedly argued that it was a mistake to vote for war in Iraq and made that sentiment a cornerstone of his 2008 presidential campaign. Yet former senators who have served in his administration – including Vice President Joe Biden and his former and current secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry – all voted for the resolution.

Republican pushback on speech

Republicans were quick to push back on the President’s remarks after the speech.

“Members of both parties have serious and heartfelt concerns about the Iran deal,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, in a statement. “These Democrats and Republicans deserved serious answers today, not some outrageous attempt to equate their search for answers with supporting chants of ‘Death to America.’”