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Obama defends Iran deal from sceptics

Though hailed by leaders of the EU and UN, Israel called the agreement an 'historic mistake'
"With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran's pathways to a nuclear programme," Obama said at a White House press conference (AFP)

WASHINGTON - A day after world powers agreed a deal after almost two years of negotiations to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb, US President Barack Obama went on the offensive to stop sceptics at home and abroad from seeking to derail the long-awaited accord.

Obama sought Wednesday to defend a ground-breaking deal to curb Iran's nuclear programme from a tide of criticism, saying the US "will continue to have profound differences with Iran".

"Iran still poses challenges to our interests and values," the US leader told reporters, citing "its support of terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilise parts of the Middle East".

The agreement, signed on Tuesday after 18 days of marathon talks in Vienna, aims to roll back Tehran's nuclear programme in return for lifting sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.

It was hailed by the United States, the European Union, Iran and NATO - all of whom hope the deal will end decades of bad blood between the Middle East's major Shiite Muslim power and the West - but branded an "historic mistake" by Israel.

"With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran's pathways to a nuclear programme," Obama insisted at a White House press conference. 

"And Iran's nuclear programme will be under severe limits for many years. Without a deal, those pathways remain open."

He insisted Iran's nuclear programme would be under unprecedented monitoring by the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Obama agreed that "Israel has legitimate concerns about its security relative to Iran". But he insisted that no one, including Israel, "have presented a better alternative", adding that "all those threats are compounded if Iran gets a nuclear weapon".

Israeli’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been a consistent critic of the negotiation efforts, recently saying, “Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons… many of the restrictions that were supposed to prevent it from getting there will be lifted. Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region and in the world.”

Obama insisted that Washington was not seeking to "normalise diplomatic relations" with Iran.

"Will we try to encourage them to take a more constructive path? Of course, but we're not betting on it," Obama added.