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Americans support Iran nuclear deal, but with major reservations (+video)

A major political fight for public opinion is ahead for the nuclear deal with Iran. Most Americans are for such a deal, but they don’t trust Iran.

The political spin machine is whirring full-time over the framework nuclear agreement with Iran.

President Obama says he is “convinced that if this framework leads to a final, comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer.”

But even the most moderate congressional Republicans (and a lot of Democrats) are highly wary. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee says, “We must remain clear-eyed regarding Iran’s continued resistance to concessions, long history of covert nuclear weapons-related activities, support of terrorism, and its current role in destabilizing the region.”

Then there are hawks like Sen. Tom Cotton (R) of Arkansas, who calls what’s been worked out so far no more than “a list of dangerous concessions.” Thus does he echo Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – from whom many US lawmakers take their cue – who says the deal “might very well spark a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East.”

(Israel has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and “is universally believed to possess nuclear arms,” according to the nonpartisan Arms Control Association, including “80-100 nuclear warheads, with fissile material for up to 200.”) 

What’s the average American – typically focused on work and family – to think?

Like opinions and assertions, polls are mixed, reflecting what Rep. Nita Lowry (D) of New York said in a statement: “The administration will have a high bar to convince Congress and the American people that this deal is good for our long-term national security and that of our allies, and that it will verifiably prevent Iran from possessing a nuclear weapon.”

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Friday illustrates just how high that bar will be as Obama tries to sell the Iran nuclear plan to lawmakers and the public.

Asked this question – “Thinking now about the situation with Iran – would you support or oppose an agreement in which the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons?” – a nearly two-to-one majority (59-31 percent) say they’d support such a plan, which sounds in essence like the framework agreement Obama announced and Secretary of State John Kerry detailed this week.

But the same survey also asked this: “How confident are you that such an agreement would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons – very confident, somewhat confident, not so confident or not confident at all?”

Here, the numbers are nearly reversed. Only 37 percent say they are “very” or “somewhat” confident that Iran’s nuclear weapons program would be stopped by such an agreement. Fifty-nine percent of those polled said they are “not so” or “not at all” confident that an agreement would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Other polls found similar results.

A Pew Research Center poll this week has a plurality (49-40 percent) favoring direct US negotiations with Iran over that country’s nuclear capabilities.

But by more than two-to-one (63-27 percent), Pew respondents think Iran is “not serious” about addressing nuclear concerns, and the same majority (62-29 percent) thinks Congress – not Obama – “should have final authority for approving any agreement between U.S. and Iran.”

The framework agreement reached by the United States, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany with the Islamic Republic of Iran "promises to lead to one of the most consequential and far reaching nuclear nonproliferation achievements in recent decades," says Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball. "It can significantly reduce the risk of a destabilizing nuclear competition in a troubled region and head off a potentially catastrophic military conflict over Iran's nuclear program.”

In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Obama continued the push for public support.

“This is a long-term deal, with strict limits on Iran’s program for more than a decade and unprecedented transparency measures that will last for 20 years or more,” Obama said. “And as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran will never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.”

“As we engage in this debate, let’s remember – we really only have three options for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program: bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities – which will only set its program back a few years – while starting another war in the Middle East; abandoning negotiations and hoping for the best with sanctions – even though that’s always led to Iran making more progress in its nuclear program; or a robust and verifiable deal like this one that peacefully prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said. “As President and Commander in Chief, I firmly believe that the diplomatic option – a comprehensive, long-term deal like this – is by far the best option. For the United States. For our allies. And for the world.”

Given the state of US public and political opinion on the issue, former president Ronald Reagan’s position regarding the former Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal – he took it from a Russian maxim – no doubt will be essential to achieving a full agreement: “Trust, but verify.”

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