Julie Pace

WASHINGTON: Pushing back hard, President Barack Obama forcefully defended the temporary agreement to freeze Iran’s nuclear program Monday, declaring the United States “cannot close the door on diplomacy.”

The president’s remarks followed skepticism of the historic accord expressed by some U.S. allies abroad as well as by members of Congress at home, including fellow Democrats. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the fiercest opponents of the six-month deal, called it a “historic mistake” and said he would dispatch a top envoy to Washington to try to toughen the final agreement negotiators will begin hammering out.

Obama, without naming names, swiped at those who have questioned the wisdom of engaging with Iran.

“Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing to do for our security,” he said during an event in San Francisco.

The weekend agreement between Iran and six world powers — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — is to temporarily halt parts of Tehran’s disputed nuclear program and allow for more intrusive international monitoring. In exchange, Iran gains some modest relief from stiff economic sanctions and a pledge from Obama that no new penalties will be levied during the six months.

Despite the fanfare surrounding the agreement, administration officials say key technical details on the inspections and sanctions relief must still be worked out before it formally takes effect. Those talks will tackle the toughest issues that have long divided Iran and the West, including whether Tehran will be allowed to enrich uranium at a low level.

Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and many nuclear analysts say a final deal will almost certainly leave Iran with some right to enrich. However, that’s sure to spark more discord with Israel and many lawmakers who insist Tehran be stripped of all enrichment capabilities. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he expects the deal to be fully implemented by the end of January.

European Union officials say their sanctions could be eased as soon as December.

Despite Obama’s assurances that no new sanctions will be levied on Iran while the interim agreement is in effect, some lawmakers want to push ahead with additional penalties. A new sanctions bill has already passed the House, and if it passes the Senate, Obama could have to wield his veto power to keep his promise to Tehran.