NEW YORK - US President Barack Obama has made a strong case for a new framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table” and potentially bring regional stability to the Middle East.

In a lengthy, wide-ranging interview with the New York Times, he sought to explicitly rebut criticism from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the deal threatens Israel’s existence, saying that it was “personally difficult” for him to hear suggestions his administration has not consistently supported Israel’s interests.

“I have to respect the fears that the Israeli people have,” the president said. “I understand that Prime Minister Netanyahu is expressing the deep-rooted concerns that a lot of the Israeli population feel about this, but what I can say to them is: Number one, this is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, and number two, what we will be doing even as we enter into this deal is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.”

Now in his seventh year in office, Obama cast the Iran talks as part of a broader foreign policy doctrine that sees American power as a safeguard that gives him the ability to take calculated risks.”We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk,” he said, citing his overtures to Cuba and Myanmar as other examples of his approach. The president’s most personal effort yet to garner support for the framework struck between Iran and six world powers - the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - comes as senior lawmakers renewed their push for Congress to be given greater involvement in the negotiations. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said on Sunday that he would move forward with an April 14 vote by his committee on legislation that would effectively allow Congress to approve or reject a final Iran deal - and which the White House fears could unsettle or even derail the talks.

“The president needs to sell this [deal] to the American people,” Corker told Fox News. “The American people want the United States Senate to go through this deal. They understand this is one of the most important geopolitical agreements that will take place during this decade?.?.?.? If the president feels like this is something that’s good for the nation, surely he can sell this to the United States Senate and the House.”

The administration has warned that congressional action to block or limit a deal would fracture a fragile international unity, and escalate the potential for prolonged military conflict. Obama argued on Sunday that it must remain within his executive powers to enter into binding agreements with foreign powers without congressional approval.

“I do think that (Republican) Senator Corker, the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, is somebody who is sincerely concerned about this issue and is a good and decent man, and my hope is that we can find something that allows Congress to express itself but does not encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives - and ensures that, if in fact we get a good deal, that we can go ahead and implement it,” the president said.

]Republican leaders believe they can move Corker’s legislation quickly through the Senate when lawmakers return from their Easter break next week. However, they would need support from Democratic lawmakers, some of whom have conceded that the framework outlined last week is better than they expected.

Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, pushed back against suggestions by Netanyahu that the deal threatens the survival of Israel.

“I don’t think it’s helpful for Israel to come out and oppose this one opportunity to change a major dynamic, which is downhill, a downhill dynamic in this part of the world,” Ms Feinstein told CNN.

Ms Feinstein said that she had not decided how she would vote on the legislation being pushed by Mr Corker because of possible changes. “I want to be cautious and wait and see what actually comes out of that (foreign relations) committee on to the floor before I really cast my vote.”