President Obama and his administration is preparing to defend the Iran nuclear deal from a group of Republican lawmakers who questioned the historic deal that will end long term economic sanctions against Iran.
Congress will vote on the bill after legislation was developed during the lengthy negotiation before the deal was announced early Tuesday morning. The law allows lawmakers 60 days to review the details of the deal before voting on it.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-author of legislation that gave Congress a vote on the final bill, said he has held concerns all through the negotiation process. He said the administration backed away from the stated goal of dismantling Iran's nuclear program to "managing its proliferation." "I want to read the agreement in detail and fully understand it, but I begin from a place of deep skepticism that the deal actually meets the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon" he said.
White House officials briefing reporters Tuesday morning on the deal warned that moves to skew the deal will only make things worse, because much of the world no longer is interested in maintaining the decades-old sanctions.
"There is not a scenario anyone could see where the rest of the world would sign up for more sanctions," an official said. Many countries in the world have already "had to make sacrifices" in terms of not being able to buy oil from Iran, including Japan, he said.
"When they made these sanctions the point was to get this deal," one of the senior administration officials said. "We have a deal. It's a good deal ... A vote to kill the deal will be a vote to kill the sanctions."
The U.S. and other member states of the P5-plus 1 -- permanent UN Security Council members Russia, Britain, France, China, and Germany -- that negotiated the deal will submit a resolution to the United Nations next week to establish the timeline by which UN-imposed sanctions will be lifted. But the resolution will keep in place certain restrictions on arms and missiles.
The restrictions on enrichment in the deal will prevent Iran from producing weapons-grade material for a decade. The deal also provisions for transparent and aggressive inspections of nuclear facilities, including those at military sites.
The White House says the restrictions will cut off "all of Iran's potential pathways to a bomb" by blocking uranium enrichment at its Natanz and Fordow nuclear facilities, blocking weapons-grade plutonium and preventing covert attempts to produce materials necessary for nuclear weapons manufacture. Iran currently has enough uranium to build up to 10 nuclear bombs, according to the White House. The agreement requires it to reduce the stockpile by 98 percent and keep the level of uranium enrichment at 3.67 percent, which is well below the level need for a bomb.
Iran will also reduce its number of centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow facilities from 19,000 to 6,104 for the next 10 years, with no enrichment allowed at the Fordow location at all. Iran has also agreed to use only its oldest model centrifuges.
Covert attempts to build a bomb will be thwarted by an aggressive monitoring and verification program written into the deal, according to the White House. This includes inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency continuously monitoring all elements of Iran's declared nuclear program as well as verifying that no fissile material is removed to secret locations.
If Iran is found in violation of the U.N. sanctions, these "automatically snap back" for 10 years with the possibility of re-imposing them for another five years if necessary. And, if Iran violates sanctions that have been imposed separately by the U.S. and Great Britain, these also may be quickly re-imposed.
In his remarks Tuesday morning, Obama said he would veto any legislation that sought to derail the deal.
Tough Talk from Congress
Some lawmakers were quick to condemn the deal, with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, calling it a "historic capitulation on Iran's nuclear program and support for terrorism."
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he has yet to review all the details of the agreement, but that "all signs point to this being a bad deal."
McCain claims the administration caved by allowing "sunset" provisions for some aspects of Iran's nuclear program, as well as for inspections, research and development and enrichment, and by lifting the international arms embargo that has prevented Iran from buying weapons.
"The result, I fear, is that this agreement will strengthen Iran's ability to acquire conventional weapons and ballistic missiles, while retaining an industrial scale nuclear program, without any basic change to its malign activities in the Middle East," McCain said.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, called the deal "delusional and dangerous" and rooted in the idea that the Iranian government will change its attitude over the next several years so that it may be trusted "with a growing arsenal, a huge influx of cash, and the infrastructure of a nuclear program."
He also said the agreement does nothing to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon but merely extends by nine months the time it would take to build one.
"And that assumes that the agreement is being implemented precisely by all parties, which is dubious when we know Iran failed to adhere to the terms of the interim deal," he said. "In exchange, Iran will receive billions in sanctions relief, a windfall to pursue its aggressive, destabilizing agenda in the region and beyond. Whatever the claimed gains we get from this deal, it clearly does not outweigh the risks to the security in the region and to the United States and its interests."
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, in an interview on MSNBC, called the agreement "a terrible, dangerous mistake that's going to pave the path for Iran to get a nuclear weapon, while also giving them tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief."
Cotton said the deal includes language that allows Iran to delay inspections and verification requirements for weeks at a time. The deal reportedly stipulates that inspectors may go to facilities "where necessary, when necessary." He said that's not the same as "anywhere, anytime," and gives Iran a say in determining when a visit or inspection is necessary.
On the same program, however, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said it would have been "disastrous" for the U.S. to have walked away from a deal with Iran.
When the U.S. walked away from nuclear talks with Iran in 2003, he said, Iran had only 200 centrifuges, the machines needed to enrich uranium. Currently, he said, they have about 19,000.
Manchin said no one who is now criticizing the deal just announced knows exactly what it is in, only the basic framework. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised the U.S negotiating team while saying Congress now give the agreement a thorough review to ensure it does not mean a path to the bomb for Iran.
"In the days and weeks ahead, I look forward to discussing the terms of the agreement in [committee] and examining the details before making a decision to either approve or disapprove the deal."
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, struck the same note: applauding the negotiators while saying he would "carefully examine the language of the proposed agreement."
"We need to ensure that this agreement has the most invasive inspections possible, the most intensive enforcement provisions possible," Markey said, "including expedited ability to reinstate sanctions if Iran violates the agreement, and the most aggressive means to remove the technological capability for Iran to quickly make a nuclear weapon."
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at email@example.com