Secretary of State John Kerry told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday he wanted to set the record straight on the Iran nuclear deal and equated walking away from the agreement to giving Tehran a fast track to a nuclear weapon.
“There are conclusions that have been drawn that don’t in fact match with the reality of what this deal sets forth. And we happily look forward to clarifying that during the course of this hearing,” Kerry told the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee.
Joined by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, two other members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, Kerry was part of the administration’s blitz to coax skeptical lawmakers into supporting the nuclear deal.
The Republican-controlled Congress has until Sept. 17 either to endorse or reject or do nothing about the agreement. Rejection would prevent Obama from waiving most U.S.-imposed sanctions on Tehran, a key component of the deal.
Under the July 14 deal, world powers agreed to lift sanctions on Tehran in return for long-term curbs on a nuclear program the West suspects was aimed at creating an atomic bomb, but which Tehran says is peaceful.
Kerry insisted that walking away from the deal would isolate the United States.
“If we walk away, we walk away alone. Our partners are not going to be with us. Instead, they’ll walk away from the tough multilateral sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place,” Kerry said.
House members signaled the difficulties the administration will face getting Congress on board.
Representative Ed Royce, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Republican chairman, said the deal would provide Iran with a “cash bonanza,” while weakening Washington’s ability to pressure Tehran.
Representative Eliot Engel, the committee’s top Democrat, also said he saw a number of troublesome issues in the agreement.
Both Republicans and Democrats expressed concern that four Americans are being held in Iranian prisons. Kerry said he was in “direct talks” with Tehran about the detainees.
Others worried about Iran’s support for militants fighting U.S. allies. “They support Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthi, and those are just the organizations that begin with the letter ‘H,'” said Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat.
The administration officials insisted the deal was a better way to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon than more sanctions or military action.
Kerry, Lew and Moniz also testified in the Senate on Thursday, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter is due to speak to lawmakers later this week.