U.S. Senate Grills Cabinet|on Nuclear Deal With Iran

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The effects on Middle East security from a recent nuclear deal with Iran faced scrutiny Wednesday from the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
     Struck earlier this month with seven world powers including the United States, the agreement lifts certain economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for measures limiting its ability to enrich uranium to the level required to produce a nuclear weapon.
     Supporters of the deal say it is the only sure way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. Critics meanwhile warn of Iran’s tendency to cheat on international accords and its support of terrorist groups throughout the Middle East.
     Senators on the committee questioned Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marin Dempsey for more three hours about the United States’ military and economic alternatives to the deal.
     Administration officials assured that the deal is the only way to prevent Iran from getting a bomb. They said other actions could come with unintended and damaging consequences.
     “This is a good deal because it removes a continued source of threat and uncertainty in a comprehensive and verifiable way by preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” Carter said during his opening statement. “It’s a deal that takes no option away from future presidents.”
     Carter made it clear throughout the hearing the United States was taking steps to ensure its allies in the region would be able to check any increased aggression from Iran with military actions.
     “I’m proud to say our defense partnerships in the region have never been stronger,” Carter said.
     He also noted that while Israel has been vocal in its criticism of the agreement, the king of Saudi Arabia expressed support for the deal during Carter’s recent trip to the Middle East.
     This is one of the administration’s arguments for supporting the deal, in fact. Lew warned that any action by Congress to invalidate the agreement would damage relations with allies that sacrificed their economic interests in the name of sanctions against Iran.
     “If they see us walk away from an agreement that they believe would stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, I think the degree of cooperation we get goes down considerably.” Lew said. “It’s not black and white – it’s not we go from being able to do everything to doing nothing, but what’s made the sanctions relief so effective these last few years is the fact that we’ve had the international cooperation.”
     Noting that the deal could bring roughly $50 billion to Iran as a result of the lifting of economic sanctions, some senators worried about that the move will destabilize the region and let Iran funnel the cash to terrorist groups and other regimes.
     “It’s only fair to assume that billions of dollars that will flow to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards corps and its Qudz force, money that will likely used to boost arms supplies to Iran’s terrorist proxies to sew chaos and instability across the region and to double down on Bashar al-Assad right when he needs it most,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said during his opening statements.
     Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., specifically mentioned Iran’s practice of supplying explosively formed penetrators – a type of roadside bomb – to groups fighting U.S. troops. He called on the administration to guarantee enduring sanctions on the person responsible for the creation of the weapon that he said has killed at least 500 Americans.
     Countering that Iran had funded terrorist organizations even with strict sanctions in place, members of the administration said walking away from the deal would not guarantee the money held in foreign banks and owed to Iran would stay there.
     “I don’t think they would feel bound to hold that money, the way they’ve done in escrow away from Iran.” Lew said, referring to the countries holding Iranian money. “I think without a nuclear agreement, some of that money will go back into Iran if there is no agreement.”
     Carter conceded Iran was unlikely to change its behavior simply as a result of the deal, and Lew said the United States does not give up its options to take action if Iran violates the deal whether through military means or the instillation of sanctions.
     “What we would have to do is make the case, as we have on many occasions that institutions should be sanctioned for their behavior on terrorism and human rights and regional destabilization,” Lew said. “We will continue to do that, we will do that vigilantly and all of our sanctions that apply in that area still stand.”
     Dempsey said the military options against Iran, should they be necessary, get “marginally” better since inspections under the deal may also provide increased intelligence.
     “If followed, the deal addresses one critical and the most dangerous point of friction with the Iranian regime,” Dempsey said in his opening statements. “But as I’ve stated repeatedly, there are at least five other malign activities which give us and our regional partners concern.”
     “The negotiated deal does not alleviate our concerns in those five areas,” he added.
     But, Dempsey acknowledged, the success of the deal won’t necessarily be immediately clear.
     “Ultimately time and Iranian behavior will determine if the nuclear agreement is effective and sustainable,” Dempsey said.

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