Carolyn Kaster/REUTERS
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague at the residence of the US Ambassador, in London Sunday. The two had taken part in breakthrough talks curbing Iran's nuclear activity.

Most Americans back Obama on Iran nuclear deal – for now, anyway

President Obama faces a tough fight in winning congressional approval for the agreement worked out on Iran's nuclear capabilities. But polls show that most Americans favor that kind of deal.

The deal on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, worked out over the weekend by world leaders in Geneva, marked an important point in diplomacy and nonproliferation.

If it works out as advertised – reining in those capabilities while easing economic sanctions on Iran – it could be a big win for President Obama as he bottoms out (he hopes) in public opinion polls grading his competency, effectiveness, and trust.

But it’s also a major challenge for him, with Republicans and many Democrats (not to mention this country’s most politically powerful ally – Israel) skeptical if not downright derisive of the agreement.

So how do Americans feel about this effort to reduce what Israel sees as an “existential threat” to its existence, a threat made by a country that once considered the US to be “the Great Satan?”

For now, it seems, most Americans back Obama on the Iran nuclear deal.

A CNN/ORC International poll in late September found that “three-quarters of Americans say they favor direct diplomatic negotiations with Iran in an attempt to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons.”

"Large majorities in all major demographic categories favor negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program, including 87 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “This is nothing new for the US public – in 2009, virtually the same number of Americans said they favored negotiations with Iran.”

That poll didn’t look at the latest agreement, just at the subject of negotiating. More recently (this past week), CNN polling shows majority public approval for the type of agreement just worked out.

“A majority of Americans support an interim deal with Iran that would ease some economic sanctions on that country in exchange for concessions on Iran's nuclear program,” CNN reported. “A CNN/ORC International survey released Thursday indicates that 56 percent of the public would favor an international agreement that would impose major restrictions on Iran's nuclear program but not end it completely, with 39 percent opposed to such an agreement.”

Not surprisingly these findings break along partisan lines, polling director Holland points out, “with two-thirds of Democrats favoring a deal along those lines but only 45 percent of Republicans agreeing with that view.”

Also this past week, while negotiations were underway in Geneva, a Washington Post/ABC poll 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 some of their 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?”

By a 64-30 percent margin, a clear majority of those surveyed agreed with the premise of the question, which is the essence of the deal just worked out.

Again there were differences in party registration, but most Republicans (57 percent) and Independents (63 percent) agreed, as did Democrats (72 percent).

“This new poll, then, could free up members of Congress in how they approach the negotiations, giving them a bit more political space to support a deal that has such wide popular support, despite the political risks,” writes Washington Post foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher. “That could be a significant asset for the Obama administration in making any nuclear deal happen.”

The next six months should show whether this kind of public opinion significantly helps Obama make his case.

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