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World

Obama Hosts Saudi King To Ease Concerns Over Iran Nuclear Deal

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When members of Congress return from their summer break next week, this much is clear - there are more than enough Senate votes to prevent opponents of the Iran nuclear deal from blocking it. It's a victory for President Obama, but he isn't done making the case for the deal. To that end, the president met today with the leader of a key Middle East ally. Here's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Obama met Saudi Arabia's King Salman essentially at the front door of the White House. The leaders then sat in the Oval Office, facing a throng of journalists.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: This is obviously a challenging time in the world affairs, particularly in the Middle East.

KEITH: Saudi Arabia's support for the Iran nuclear deal has been, let's say, tepid. There are concerns that Iran, with economic sanctions lifted, would have more money to spend on supporting militant groups and growing its influence in an already unstable region. And part of the president's job in meeting with the Saudi king was reassurance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: And we'll discuss the importance of effectively implementing the deal to ensure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon while counteracting its destabilizing activities in the region.

KEITH: Even if the agreement is successful in keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, Iran remains heavily involved in conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and beyond. And the agreement doesn't do anything to address that. Former U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns is a professor of diplomacy and international politics. He appeared on The Diane Rehm Show. Burns supports the Iran deal, but says it must be part of a larger strategy to check Iran's power.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NICHOLAS BURNS: As we implement the nuclear deal, we also have to in effect implement a containment strategy in Iran to build up Israeli military power, to build up the military capacity of the Gulf states and to reinsert the United States - not through our troops, but as a political actor to push back.

KEITH: Burns says this will require the administration to have a concrete strategy and buy-in from Congress. But as it is, the Iran deal has turned into an almost entirely partisan fight. And on the presidential campaign trail, opposing it has become a rallying cry for Republicans, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCO RUBIO: A radical Shia cleric in Iran is on the verge of a nuclear weapon because of a deal our own president signed.

(BOOING)

KEITH: And next week, just as Congress returns from the August recess, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, will rally against the Iran deal at the capital.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I think that agreement is a disaster for this country, for Israel, for the Middle East. It's going to lead to nuclear proliferation. The 24-day clause, everything about - we don't even get our prisoners back.

KEITH: The president may have the support he needs in Congress to implement the Iran nuclear deal, but his work making the case for it is far from over - both at home and abroad. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.