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Obama talks up Iran deal to Jewish American group, saying, ‘We’re all pro-Israel’

President Obama returns to Washington from vacation on Aug. 25 ahead of a busy two weeks promoting, among other things, his nuclear deal with Iran. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

President Obama made a pitch for his Iran nuclear deal to Jewish Americans on Friday afternoon, declaring in a video and phone conference call: "We're all pro-Israel. We're all family." He added, "The fates of our two countries are always going to be intertwined."

Obama laid out the elements of the agreement, saying, “This deal blocks every way, every pathway that Iran might take in order to develop a nuclear weapon.” He urged listeners to educate themselves about the various pieces of the accord.

He also made an emotional appeal, saying that he understood the "visceral reaction" of those who have watched missiles fall or who lost relatives in the Holocaust. He said that the history of African Americans also showed that people could be cruel.

"But," the president said, "history also teaches us that sometimes the best security is to enter into negotiations with your enemies." He reiterated that the agreement does not rest on  trust but on clear verification and inspection procedures.

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The call was organized by the Jewish Federations of North America, and Michael Siegal, chairman of the organization, said that the White House had approached the group. The group does not engage in lobbying, as J Street and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee do. But earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had persuaded the group to let him speak to it against the Iran deal. Later, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute, also addressed Jewish Americans through the federation.

"I think there are still a lot of people who are trying to make up their minds," said Siegal. "You're kind of torn. You hear about the existential threat from the prime minister. You hear that this is a great deal from the president. And you're making a deal with a state sponsor of terrorism. So it's very difficult to know what the right answer is."

The president was asked whether he wasn't bothered by the lack of mutual respect and the speeches by top Iranian officials sharply criticizing the United States and Israel. Obama said that "the president of the United States doesn’t respond to taunts.” Throughout the negotiations, he said, "I’m more interested in [the text of] this deal than in what the Supreme Leader says about me.”

He added: “Am I troubled by this rhetoric?  Of course. Does it speak to a deeply antagonistic and twisted world view among leadership inside of Iran?  Yes. That's precisely why we can't let them have a nuclear weapon.  And this is the best way to do it.”

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Obama said: “Do I hope that the character of the regime changes? Absolutely. But I’m not counting on it. Being for this deal does not involve pie-in-the-sky hopes about Iran. We will retain all the tools that we have to go after them.”

He also defended himself against charges that he was unfairly painting opponents of the deal as advocating war. "At no point have I ever suggested that someone was a warmonger, meaning they want war," he said. But he argued that as a practical matter, rejecting the deal would bring about a crumbling of international sanctions and resumption of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, and that there would be "not many tools left in the tool kit."