Skip to main content

Iran nuclear deal: President Barack Obama's legacy moment on Iran

By Conor Finnegan, CNN
November 24, 2013 -- Updated 1638 GMT (0038 HKT)
  • Will the agreement be enough to help distract the public from the Obamacare rollout debacle?
  • 56% of Americans said they'd favor the kind ultimately reached
  • There are drawbacks as well
  • It complicates Obama's relationship with Israel

(CNN) -- These are troubled times for President Barack Obama.

He's a lame duck president. The latest CNN/ORC poll has his approval rating at 41% -- the lowest of his presidency. And the Affordable Care Act, his signature legislation, has been hobbled by the botched and much maligned rollout of the signup website.

So, the historic deal that Iran reached with six world powers over Tehran's nuclear program couldn't come at a better time.

20 questions about the Iran nuclear deal

"Today, diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure," Obama said in a televised address from the East Room of the White House, after the deal was announced. "A future in which we can verify that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon."

Chief negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iran's foreign minister announce agreement on Iran's nuclear program early on Sunday, November 24 in Geneva. Chief negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iran's foreign minister announce agreement on Iran's nuclear program early on Sunday, November 24 in Geneva.
Iran nuclear deal reached
Photos: Iran nuclear deal reached Photos: Iran nuclear deal reached
Iran deal 'important step forward'
Kerry comments on Iran deal
Iran happy with 'first step'

But will the agreement be enough to help distract the public from the Obamacare rollout debacle and potentially improve his image?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Read the deal (.PDF)

In a CNN/ORC poll released Thursday, 56% of Americans said they'd favor the kind of interim deal with Iran that was eventually reached. Another 39% said they'd oppose it.

The agreement -- described as an "initial, six-month" deal -- includes "substantial limitations that will help prevent Iran from creating a nuclear weapon," according to the president.

"Simply put, they cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb," he said.

But there are drawbacks as well.

Kerry: Israel is safe under new deal

The deal complicates Obama's relationship with Israel, a key ally in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly oppose any deal, and the Israeli government had strong words Sunday.

"The current deal ... is more likely to bring Iran closer to having a bomb," Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close Netanyahu associate said. "Israel cannot participate in the international celebration, which is based on Iranian deception and the world self-delusion."

A senior administration official told reporters, "You can be sure that President Obama will speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu" on Sunday.

The President also faces skepticism from Congress, where there were talks of increased sanctions as recently as this week.

Netanyahu: Iran nuclear deal 'historic mistake'

The deal says that the U.S. will provide $6 to $7 billion in sanction relief in exchange. And Obama can do so by executive order -- bypassing Congress altogether.

Reactions poured in late Saturday night, with Republicans slamming the administration for appeasing the Iranian regime.

"This deal appears to provide the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions that neither fully freeze nor significantly roll back its nuclear infrastructure," said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois.

Fareed Zakaria: What critics are getting wrong about the Iran deal

U.S.-Iranian relations have been thawing for months now, since the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran's seventh president in June. A senior administration official confirmed Saturday that since the election, U.S. and Iranian officials have been holding private, previously secret discussions to generate ideas for the wider nuclear negotiations.

The détente climaxed in a telephone conversation between Obama and Rouhani this fall during the United Nations General Assembly -- the highest contact between leaders of the two countries since the Islamic revolution that led to the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.

"While today's announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal," Obama said. "For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program and key parts of the program will be rolled back,"

Ultimately, however, the outcome -- and part of Obama's legacy -- hinges on what happens next: Negotiations will continue over the next six months to reach a comprehensive solution to the Iran's nuclear program.

"The success of interim deals will be measured in months and years, not in minutes," said Karim Sadjadpour, a leading researcher on Iran for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

All eyes, of course, will be on the president through then.

One agreement, wildly different reactions

CNN's Jim Acosta, Jim Sciutto, and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Iran nuclear deal
December 26, 2013 -- Updated 1040 GMT (1840 HKT)
Iranian lawmakers have drafted a bill that would force the government to enrich uranium up to 60% if new sanctions are imposed.
November 24, 2013 -- Updated 2131 GMT (0531 HKT)
Diplomats made history when Iran and six world powers came together on an agreement over Iran's nuclear program.
November 24, 2013 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
The White House issued a detailed synopsis, or "fact sheet," of the six-month deal regarding Iran's nuclear program.
November 25, 2013 -- Updated 0245 GMT (1045 HKT)
A quick primer to get you up to speed on where we are and how we got there.
November 25, 2013 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
The deal struck at the weekend is a step forward in the budding rapprochement between Iran and the U.S.
November 25, 2013 -- Updated 1559 GMT (2359 HKT)
While the EU and the U.St. cheered a deal that world powers reached with Tehran over its nuclear ambitions, Israel was fierce in its criticism.
November 24, 2013 -- Updated 1638 GMT (0038 HKT)
These are troubled times for President Barack Obama.
November 24, 2013 -- Updated 0419 GMT (1219 HKT)
U.S. President Barack Obama vows to "ratchet up the pressure" if Iran violates the nuclear deal.
November 24, 2013 -- Updated 0426 GMT (1226 HKT)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says he hopes deal with improve Iran's relations with Western powers.
November 24, 2013 -- Updated 1351 GMT (2151 HKT)
Click through our gallery for an overview of how enriched uranium is made.
More than two dozen countries have nuclear power, but only a few have nuclear weapons or are suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons.
November 19, 2013 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey as well as Israel all fear Iran gaining nuclear status, writes Barak Seener.
November 17, 2013 -- Updated 0004 GMT (0804 HKT)
Russia's foreign minister says the opportunity to bring about an end to a decade-long standoff is one that must not be passed up.