Republicans Criticize Iran |Deal at Senate Hearing

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee clashed with top Obama Administration officials on the proposed nuclear deal with Iran at a Thursday hearing on Capitol Hill.
     Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew sought to dispel concerns and misinformation about the agreement during their testimony before the committee, which lasted more than four hours.
     The deal, which the United States and other world powers reached with Iran last week, would drop economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for the country reducing its uranium enrichment capabilities.
     Republican members of the committee criticized the deal and said the administration had been “fleeced” and “bamboozled.”
     “Anyone who believes this is a good deal really joins the ranks of the most naive people on the face of the Earth,” Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, said during the hearing.
     Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., condemned her colleagues for using such harsh language and spoke in support of the deal as the best option for controlling Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
     “I don’t think the American people want another war, and at the end of the day… that’s really the option, which everyone tiptoes around,” Boxer said during the hearing.
     Kerry had several heated exchanges with senators on both sides of the aisle as he sought to respond to their allegations of what the deal contained.
     During one line of questioning, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., asked Kerry if Iran is blocked from producing ballistic missiles under the terms of the agreement.
     Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., responded instead, shaking his head and saying “no, no.”
     Kerry bristled and asked Corker if the senator would rather respond for him.
     Many Republican lawmakers have joined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in voicing opposition to the deal, expressing concerns that Iran could cheat and produce more or higher-quality uranium than allowed under the terms of the international agreement.
     “This deal is fundamentally and irreparably flawed,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said during the hearing.
     The Obama administration has been lobbying for the deal since it was reached, arguing it is sufficient to ensure Iran can never obtain a nuclear weapon.
     Kerry said if the United States were to back out of the deal either through Congressional action or through the actions of the next president it would give Iran a “green light” to develop a weapon.
     “The choice we face is between an agreement that will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is limited, rigorously scrutinized and wholly peaceful, or no deal at all,” Kerry said during his testimony.
     Walking away from the deal at this point would also threaten any future negotiations with Iran, Kerry said.
     The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved the deal Monday, which drew more criticism from Republican lawmakers who saw the move as a violation of agreed-upon protocol.
     “It is inappropriate to commit the United States to meet certain international obligations without even knowing if Congress and the American people approve or disapprove of the Iran agreement,” Corker said in a press release Monday.
     Some members of the committee expressed concern about the strength of Iran’s commitment to the deal, the details of what international inspectors would need to do to gain access to Iran’s enrichment facilities, and the potential for Iran to use the money it gains from the agreement to fund terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East.
     “They would have to be a dramatically different Iran to have any aspiration that they would be a regional power,” Menendez said during the hearing, after suggesting the deal could make the country a Middle Eastern power.
     Specifically, several senators mentioned the 24-day window between when inspectors could request access to sites they suspected Iran of using to enrich uranium and when they would actually be able to inspect the sites.
     The window would not be enough time for Iran to hide its enrichment because international inspectors would be able to use technologies that reveal the telltale signs of nuclear activity, Moniz ensured.
     While some members of the committee, including Corker and ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., asked for details of the international inspection agreement to be released, those testifying maintained that it is standard procedure for the specifics of the deal between Iran and international investigators to be kept confidential.
     Kerry said before the agreement that the breakout time for Iran to obtain the material necessary to produce a nuclear weapon was two to three months. He said the deal ensures Iran would have to wait at least a year before producing enough weapons-grade material to build a bomb.
     He also challenged those who opposed the deal over concerns about provisions that drop certain restrictions more than a decade in the future.
     “So, at the end of 15 years you have every option that you have today. Your decision is whether you want those 15 years to be right now, or take the 15 years and figure out if this is going to work,” Kerry said.
     Kerry admitted the deal was not made from a place of mutual respect between Iran and the United States and that Iran’s history of noncompliance with past international agreements built the mistrust.
     “It is a wedding day where the bride is shouting, ‘I hate you and your family’ and the groom is shouting, ‘I distrust you and you’ve always cheated on me,’ and each is announcing their distrust of the other at the outset,” Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., said during the hearing.
     Congress will have 60 days to consider the agreement before bringing it to a vote.

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