A crucial step in the implementation of the broad nuclear agreement reached between Iran and major world powers could be completed “in the next couple of weeks,” a senior Obama administration official said Saturday.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes cited Iran’s recent shipment of low enriched uranium out of its country as a key development in early 2016 that could pave the way for the promised sanctions relief for Tehran under the deal.
Speaking with reporters as President Barack Obama wrapped up his annual vacation in Hawaii, Rhodes said implementation of the Iran deal is one of several major priorities for the White House in the upcoming year, as Obama prepares to leave office.
Obama has an ambitious travel itinerary set for 2016. Trips to China, Japan, Poland, Germany, Peru and Laos are now all on the President’s schedule. Obama’s expected visit to Laos for an Asian economic summit later this year will make him the first U.S. president to stop in that country, Rhodes said.
A trip to Cuba, however, appears to rank highest on Obama’s travel wish list. But Rhodes cautioned that both governments in Washington and Havana must work though a number of remaining issues in order to finalize a presidential trip to the socialist island.
Rhodes conceded some of the lingering disagreements between the U.S. and Cuba, from human rights to access to the island’s closed economic system, are likely to remain unresolved during the final year of the Obama presidency.
“Nobody expects Cuba over the next year to become a multi-party democracy,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes described the fight against ISIS, also known as ISIL, as the “overarching” issue that will drive much of Obama’s foreign policy decisions throughout 2016, an agenda the President will discuss during his upcoming State of the Union speech on January 12.
“ISIL will continue to exist. You’re not going to eradicate ISIL,” Rhodes cautioned reporters. But he pointed to a “counterterrorism architecture” put in place during the Obama presidency as an accomplishment that will aid future administrations.
Key components of the effort to defeat ISIS are ending the bloody civil war in Syria and brokering a diplomatic agreement that will usher in a new government in Damascus, Rhodes added.
The deputy national security adviser stressed the White House hope that candidates running for president in 2016 will avoid rhetoric that could serve as a recruiting tool for terrorists.
The al Qaeda linked group, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, has released a recruitment video that features Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
“We are at war with terrorists. We are not at war with Islam,” Rhodes said in an indirect criticism of Trump’s remarks.