WASHINGTON — On the eve of new talks, President Obama is plunging ahead in search of a nuclear agreement with Iran despite outright opposition from American allies in the Middle East and deep skepticism, if not open hostility, from Congress.
Iran is pressing ahead in its own way, trying to make a deal to ease painful economic sanctions while holding at bay its hard-liners at home.
Obama’s willingness to embrace a pact that falls short of UN Security Council demands for Iran to halt uranium enrichment has pushed his administration’s already contentious relationship with Israel to the brink, strained ties with Gulf Arab states, and exacerbated tensions with lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle in Washington.
Although everyone claims to have to same goal — preventing Iran from developing atomic weapons — the public disagreement over how to achieve it has driven a wedge between the administration and those who the administration insists will benefit most from a deal.
Opponents say Iran is getting too much in the way of sanctions relief for too little in the way of concessions. And, they argue, Iran just can’t be trusted. Obama and his national security team counter that the risk is worth taking. The alternative, they say, is a path to war that no one wants.
There was a fresh sign of efforts to make headway as negotiators from Iran, the five permanent members of the Security Council, and Germany prepared for Wednesday’s new round of talks in Geneva. British Prime Minister David Cameron contacted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the first such conversation between the leaders of the two countries in more than a decade.
Cameron’s office said the leaders agreed during their telephone conversation that significant progress had been made in talks and that it was important to ‘‘seize the opportunity.’’
Most signs seemed to be pointing to a deal coming together soon.
Meanwhile, Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice personally appealed to senators in a White House meeting to hold off on seeking additional sanctions in order to test Iran’s seriousness.