Congressional Republicans are pressuring the Obama administration to take a firm line with Iran in the final stretch of the nuclear talks.
The Obama administration announced Tuesday that the negotiations would be extended for a week past the initial June 30 deadline.
Republicans say the extension is a sign the talks aren’t going well and argue President Obama should consider walking away from the negotiating table before he gets forced into a “bad deal” that doesn’t do enough to dismantle Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
“The Administration’s deadlines and redlines with Iran are all moving in the wrong direction, and the backpedaling is a major threat to our security. Achieving a nuclear deal at all costs is not only short-sighted, it is dangerous,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said Wednesday.
Republicans say they fear the Obama administration will concede too much to Iran and are drawing their own redlines for what would be an acceptable agreement.
In particular, they are zeroing in on demands that Iran allow inspections “anytime, anywhere,” including at military sites, and that the country come clean on any past nuclear weapons research. Republicans also say Iran should agree to phased-in sanctions relief.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on the administration Tuesday in a Politico op-ed to pause negotiations until international negotiators could agree on those and other “basic objectives.”
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) also called for dismantlement of Iran’s “vast nuclear program” and “complete transparency and accountability on any future sanctions relief to Iran.”
Kirk has authored a bill with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) that would require the White House to tell Congress whether any money from sanctions relief would go toward terrorism, nuclear weapons or to the bank accounts of Iranian officials.
Kirk said the deal would give back as much as $150 billion in frozen assets to Iran.
“If the Administration cannot meet these minimum standards, it should have the courage to walk away from a bad nuclear deal with Iran,” he said.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a 2016 presidential candidate, blasted reports that a senior administration official told reporters that the U.S. wouldn’t insist upon access to Iranian military sites, because the U.S. would not allow for others to do the same.
“There is no place in this negotiation for moral equivalence,” they said in a statement. “Iran must be held to different, more rigorous standards.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) added, “It’s logical that any deal with a nuclear pariah and state sponsor of terrorism must require exceptional access for international inspectors.”
“Stop explaining Iran’s position, and certainly don’t do it by comparing Iran with the U.S. in any way, shape, or form. The standard needs to be ‘go anywhere, anytime’ — not go ‘some places, sometimes,’” he said.
If negotiators submit text of the deal to Congress before July 9, Congress will have 30 days to review the deal and vote on a resolution to disapprove it. If Congress rejects the deal, the White House would have 12 days to veto the resolution. Congress would then have 10 days to override the veto.
Two nuclear proliferation experts argued Tuesday that there was “just enough” overlap between international negotiators and Iran to meet core concerns and that press reports suggesting that Iran Supreme Leader Al Khamenei ruled out all military site inspections were wrong.
“It is unrealistic and unnecessary to have carte blanche access to Iran’s military sites to verify Iran’s compliance with this agreement. Iran, like any other country, has legitimate concerns about safeguarding sensitive military sites,” argued Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy for the Arms Control Association, and ACA Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball.
President Obama on Tuesday said he would walk away from the Iran negotiations “if, in fact, it’s a bad deal.”
“If we can’t provide assurances that the pathways for Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon are closed, and if we can’t verify that, if the inspections regime — the verification regime is inadequate, then we’re not going to get a deal,” he said at a press conference.
Some Republicans are calling for the administration to walk away from the talks.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a 2016 presidential candidate, blasted the pending deal and said the White House has “given into Iran’s obfuscation and stalling tactics.”
If the president were “serious about negotiating a deal that advances our security and protects our allies,” he would walk away from the talks and impose new sanctions on Iran until “it comes to the table ready to negotiate seriously.”
Rubio also said even if Congress could not override a presidential veto, a resolution of disapproval would set the stage for the next president to undo the deal — a suggestion that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) made in a GOP letter to Iran earlier this year.
If the president “instead chooses to conclude a deal that ensure that Iran will be a nuclear threshold state, I am confident that a majority of both houses of Congress will join me in opposing it, which will lay the foundation for our next President to undo this disaster,” Rubio said.
By The Hill