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President Obama Reacts To Iran Nuclear Deal, Prisoner Swap


We've been listening to special live coverage of remarks by President Obama talking about what he is calling a diplomatic victory. Iran has met its obligation under a nuclear deal reached last year. And as a result, economic sanctions on that country has - have been lifted. At the same time, the president talked about a prisoner swap that was arranged with Iran. The U.S. released seven Iranian who'd been held in U.S. prisons. And Iran released five Americans who had been held in Tehran. To talk more about this, we are bringing in White House correspondent Scott Horsley along with Deb Amos, who covers the Middle East. Welcome to you both.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Scott, I'm going to start with you. The president - this - has been working on this obviously for a very long time. Negotiators have been working on the nuclear deal that was signed this past summer for at least two years. How did all of this come together, seemingly at the same time yesterday?

HORSLEY: This was a tremendous culmination of some long and patient diplomacy. As you say, the nuclear talks were going on a couple years. We know that the discussions on the prisoner swap were going on for 14 months. Those talks accelerated after the nuclear deal was struck last summer. Yesterday, in announcing that Iran had complied with the terms of the nuclear deal, allowing - paving the way for the lifting of sanctions, we heard Secretary of State John Kerry say that we would hear from the president. We sort of thought we were going to hear from the president, giving a speech like this, last night. And then, at the 11th hour, there was another delay because we - I think the White House probably wanted an abundance of caution to wait until the American prisoners were out of Iran before the president said anything, in part because part of what he was announcing was a fresh round of sanctions against some Iranian individuals and some other companies for that ballistic missile test. That was a round of sanctions that the White House had hinted at a couple weeks ago and then balked at imposing. At the time, there was some criticism that the White House was wavering in its determination to enforce those sanctions. I think we can now say what probably happened was they wanted to wait until this prisoner deal was done. And then, you know, within minutes of the prisoner deal being carried out, this fresh round of sanctions was imposed.

MARTIN: Deb, I want to bring you in. There's been all kinds of criticism here from Republican presidential candidates, other Republican congressional leaders, who say that the lifting of these economic sanctions is only going to embolden Iran in the region. Hundreds of billions of dollars in frozen assets will be released. How do you see this playing out? What is Iran likely to do with this moment?

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Well, I can't tell you that. But here's what's interesting to me, is Middle East allies - longtime Middle East allies - are quite worried. And you can see that in the newspaper headlines today - sanctions lifted, Iran remains the same. And I think that many - certainly in Saudi Arabia - in the Arab world, there is concern that Iran's aggression continues. And that's sort of how they see it. You know, this is a region that is - that's steeped in a proxy war. It's Iran against Saudi Arabia and its allies. And you see it in Syria. You see it in Lebanon. You see it in Iraq. You see it in Yemen. And that nuclear agreement did not address those concerns. And so the allies are going to be watching. And they are going to be yelling every time they see Iran taking a move that's outside the nuclear agreement but against their interests. So that's what I'm going to be watching.

MARTIN: Scott, the U.S. relationship with Iran has been a focal point of this administration's foreign policy. Where does it go from here? I mean, there are just a few months in this particular White House, in this particular administration. But this is opening a new chapter in this relationship.

HORSLEY: Yeah, and where it goes from here is in many ways up to Iran. And the president and his administration have really tried to prop up the moderates in Iran against the hardliners. And the president talked today about a new opportunity for Iran. He spoke directly to the Iranian people, hoping they will take advantage of this window, this new path.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley and Deb Amos speaking to us about the president's remarks about Iran. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.