Earnest on Navy Incident: These Kinds of Iranian Hostilities are Why Obama Made Nuclear Deal

January 12, 2016

White House spokesman Josh Earnest used the ongoing incident involving two U.S. Navy boats being held in Iranian custody as further justification for President Obama's pursuit of the Iran nuclear deal.

Iranian aggression over the past few decades is "precisely" why Obama made the deal with the rogue nation a priority, Earnest said.

Earnest appeared on CNN's The Lead to preview Obama's State of the Union address, but the breaking news of the Iranian military seizing the two boats dominated the discussion. The sailors are reportedly safe.

"What do you say to people who say Iran ... fired a warning shot of sorts towards an American ship in the last couple weeks?" CNN host Jake Tapper asked. "They test-fired, I believe, a ballistic missile in the last few weeks, and yet in a few days, they are scheduled to have a the relief of all those sanctions. The basic question being, this does not seem like a country that is ready to be welcomed back into the community of nations."

"That's right, Jake," Earnest said.

Earnest said the U.S. has been concerned with Iran's destabilizing behavior over the past few decades.

"That is why the United States and this president made it a priority to organize the international community, to reach an agreement with Iran that will prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Earnest said. "This agreement is actually the best way for us to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon."

Tapper bristled.

"I hear you, but they have 10 American sailors in their custody right now, Josh," Tapper said. "I think there are probably a lot of Americans watching this thinking, 'Why are we about to give them sanction relief?' They have 10 Americans in ... a boat, in a cell, whatever."

"Because these were sanctions that were imposed on Iran over their nuclear program, and as soon as Iran takes the steps that they've committed to take and those steps can be verified by international nuclear experts, then we'll know that Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon," Earnest said.

Earnest said sanctions would continue against Iran over their support for terrorism and their ballistic missile program.

"We continue to be concerned about this situation," he said. "That precisely is why the president made preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon a top national security priority, and we're making progress in actually accomplishing that goal."