Iran nuclear deal: Americans generally supportive but very wary

Now that an Iran nuclear deal has been worked out, the political selling job begins. A plurality of Americans support the agreement, but most are not confident that Iran can be prevented from producing nuclear weapons.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Barack Obama answers questions about the Iran nuclear deal during a news conference Wednesday in the East Room of the White House.

Now that a nuclear deal has been worked out between Iran and six world powers led by the United States, the political selling job begins – especially in the US, where Congress has a say on whether the agreement to lift economic sanctions in return for inspections gets implemented.

While it’s Congress that has the power to influence the outcome in the US, lobbying of the American public plays an important part as well.

President Obama, whose foreign policy legacy may hinge on an agreement designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, began his public lobbying with a formal White House statement, then continued with a press conference in which he made sure that Iran was topic number one.

He continued that effort Saturday with his weekly radio/Internet address, taking on his critics point by point.

“Today, Iran has enough nuclear material to produce up to 10 nuclear weapons. With this deal, they’ll have to ship 98 percent of that material out of the country – leaving them with a fraction of what it takes to make even one weapon,” Obama said. “With this deal, they’ll have to repurpose two key nuclear facilities so they can’t produce materials that could be used for a nuclear weapon. So this deal actually pushes Iran further away from a bomb.”

“You might hear from critics that Iran could just ignore what’s required and do whatever they want. That they’re inevitably going to cheat,” he continued. “Well, that’s wrong, too. With this deal, we will have unprecedented, 24/7 monitoring of Iran’s key nuclear facilities. With this deal, international inspectors will have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain. The verification process set up by this deal is comprehensive and it is intrusive – precisely so we can make sure Iran keeps its commitments.”

Here and in other venues, Obama is pushing against considerable skepticism – and among many members of Congress (virtually all Republicans), outright opposition.

“Instead of making the world less dangerous, this ‘deal’ will only embolden Iran – the world’s largest sponsor of terror – by helping stabilize and legitimize its regime as it spreads even more violence and instability in the region,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “Instead of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, this deal is likely to fuel a nuclear arms race around the world.”

So what do Americans think as the debate continues?

There’s been a shift in how Americans view Iran.

Between 2006 and 2012, Iran topped the list when people were asked to name the country's greatest enemy, according to Gallup.

“Last year, Iran tied with North Korea in second place, behind China,” write Frank Newport and Julie Ray in a Gallup analysis this week. “This year, Iran's position on the greatest enemy list fell ever further, named as such by 9 percent of the public, coming in behind Russia, North Korea, and China, and virtually tied with Iraq.”

Still (again, according to Gallup), 77 percent of Americans believe that the development of nuclear weapons by Iran is a critical threat to the vital interests of the US. 

Regarding the just-concluded nuclear deal, a plurality of those surveyed (43-30 percent) support the deal, according to a new YouGov poll. Still, a large number (26 percent) aren’t sure, and a large majority (59-23 percent) are not confident that the deal will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

A new Fox News poll has similar results. By 80-15 percent, those surveyed do not think “the United States can trust what Iran says on the issue of nuclear weapons.”

Is the issue worth going to war over? Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry say that’s the only likely alternative to the new agreement. For most Americans, apparently, the answer to that question is “yes.”

“If Iran breaks the agreement and begins developing a nuclear weapon, majorities of nearly all political and demographic groups say they would approve of the US and its allies taking military action against Iran,” reports YouGov. “Overall 64 percent say they would approve of using military force in this event, against only 18 percent who would disapprove.”

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