Congress members react to the Iran nuclear deal

November 24, 2013

Updated 1:20 p.m. Sunday

Lawmakers began reacting late Saturday to news of an interim agreement that freezes key parts of Iran's nuclear program. Other lawmakers weighed in on Sunday morning, either in a written statement or on television. Here are excerpts from statements:


House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio):

“The interim deal has been and will continue to be met with healthy skepticism and hard questions, not just of the Iranians, but of ourselves and our allies involved in the negotiations.  Iran has a history of obfuscation that demands verification of its activities and places the burden on the regime to prove it is upholding its obligations in good faith while a final deal is pursued.

“The Administration and its negotiating partners claim that a final deal can be completed that affirms Iran does not have a right to enrich and permanently and irreversibly dismantles the infrastructure of its uranium and plutonium nuclear programs.  That is a goal the House shares.  The lingering question, however, is whether the negotiating partners will work equally hard to preserve the strong international sanctions regime until that goal is achieved.  Otherwise, we will look back on the interim deal as a remarkably clever Iranian move to dismantle the international sanctions regime while maintaining its infrastructure and material to pursue a break-out nuclear capability.

“The House looks forward to the Administration providing a briefing on the interim deal and the next steps.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a statement Sunday morning:

“Last night's agreement is an essential step toward meeting our ultimate objective: to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. President Obama, Secretary Kerry, their team, and our allies are to be commended for their successful efforts to hash out a deal that advances national, regional, and global security.

“It is clear that tough, far-reaching sanctions, enacted by Congress and enforced by the Obama Administration, enabled world powers to reach this point and freeze Iran's nuclear development. But let there be no doubt: America's commitment to the security of Israel and our allies across the region will stand firm; majority of our sanctions structure remains in place; and if Iran fails to live up to its obligations, the United States will not hesitate to reimpose, deepen, and expand our sanctions regime.

“This announcement marks a necessary bridge to further negotiations on a lasting, long-term, and comprehensive agreement. Through diplomacy, engagement, and unity among our allies, we must continue acting to end Iran's nuclear weapons program once and for all.”

House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), in a new statement issued Sunday morning:

"The text of the interim agreement with Iran explicitly and dangerously recognizes that Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium when it describes a 'mutually defined enrichment program' in a final, comprehensive deal. It is clear why the Iranians are claiming this deal recognizes their right to enrich. The U.S. should not weaken existing United Nations Security Council demands that Iran fully suspend its nuclear activities, including enrichment. Loosening sanctions and recognizing Iran's enrichment program is a mistake, and will not stop Iran's march toward nuclear capability."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.):

"I have serious concerns that this agreement does not meet the standards necessary to protect the United States and our allies.  Instead of rolling back Iran’s program, Tehran would be able to keep the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability.  Yet we are the ones doing the dismantling – relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years.  This sanctions relief is more lifeline than ‘modest.’  Secretary Kerry should soon come before the Foreign Affairs Committee to address the many concerns with this agreement."

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

"While I am concerned that this interim agreement does not require Iran to completely halt its enrichment efforts or dismantle its centrifuges, I hope that over the next six months, Iran takes the necessary steps  to finally end its quest for a nuclear weapons capability.  If Tehran thinks that this agreement will simply afford it another six months to stall for more time and position itself for a breakout capacity, it is sadly mistaken."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif):

"Iran hasn't given the world reason to be anything but deeply skeptical of any agreement that leaves their capacity to build nuclear weapons intact. The President sees wisdom in placing trust, however limited, in a regime that has repeatedly violated international norms and put America's security at risk. Apparently, America has not learned its lesson from 1994 when North Korea fooled the world.  I am skeptical that this agreement will end differently."

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee:

“The deal announced today is a positive step in the right direction and I applaud the Administration for making progress on this important national security issue.  It is vital that we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in a peaceful way.

“The initial step of the P5 + 1 deal announced today halts the Iranian nuclear program and will roll it back in key respects in exchange for temporary, targeted, and reversible relief. The deal also puts in place an improved inspection, monitoring, and verification regime. This preliminary step should serve as a bridge to a long-term deal. This interim agreement gives us the chance to make significant progress towards the goal we and our allies seek: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“While today’s announcement represents serious progress, far more work remains to be done.”

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Homeland Security and Intelligence committees:

“President Obama’s agreement with Iran is a serious strategic mistake. The United States will ease sanctions on Iran making billions of dollars available to the Iranians while Iran does not have to dismantle any of their 19,000 centrifuges. This agreement is a victory for Iran and a defeat for the United States and our allies in the Middle East, specifically Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the second-ranking Senate Republican:

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), third-ranking Senate Democrat:

“I am disappointed by the terms of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations because it does not seem proportional. Iran simply freezes its nuclear capabilities while we reduce the sanctions. It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table, and any reduction relieves the psychological pressure of future sanctions and gives them hope that they will be able to gain nuclear weapon capability while further sanctions are reduced. A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.

“The goal of the administration is to eliminate all of Iran’s nuclear weapons-making capability by the end of the final negations; it is still my hope they can achieve that goal.“As for additional sanctions, this disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December. I intend to discuss that possibility with my colleagues.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.):

"I continue to support a two-track policy of diplomacy and sanctions with Iran.  The interim agreement reached is but a beginning and a product of that policy.

"In my view, this agreement did not proportionately reduce Iran's nuclear program for the relief it is receiving. Given Iran's history of duplicity, it will demand ongoing, on the ground verification.  Until Iran has verifiably terminated its illicit nuclear program, we should vigorously enforce existing sanctions. I do not believe we should further reduce our sanctions, nor abstain from preparations to impose new sanctions on Iran should the talks fail. I will be monitoring the enforcement of existing sanctions not covered by the interim agreement to ensure they are being robustly enforced.

"I expect that the forthcoming sanctions legislation to be considered by the Senate will provide for a six month window to reach a final agreement before imposing new sanctions on Iran, but will at the same time be immediately available should the talks falter or Iran fail to implement or breach the interim agreement.

"It is my fervent hope that this interim agreement leads to a final agreement with Iran that will ensure that it cannot acquire nuclear weapons capability, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions, as well as long-term access to Iran by the IAEA to detect any effort by Iran to re-start its illicit nuclear program."

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in comments made on "Fox News Sunday:"

“Iran has consolidated their gains and have sanctions relief. I think all of us want to see a diplomatic solution here. I think it’s now time for Congress to weigh in because I think people are very concerned that the interim deal becomes the norm, and that’s why I’ve crafted legislation to hold the administration and the international community's feet to the fire over the next six months to ensure that this interim deal is not the norm.  But look, I think we all greet it with skepticism."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.):

"I support the interim deal with Iran. It is a realistic, practical way to freeze Iran's nuclear program for six months while we seek a long-range diplomatic end to Iran's nuclear weapon ambition. And it is another example of the value of tough sanctions backed by a broad international coalition. There is no harm in testing Iran's willingness because a freeze and a partial roll-back of Iran's nuclear energy activities is a bigger plus for us and the world than the release of $7 billion to Iran from its own assets, particularly since twice that amount of Iran's oil revenue will be added to Iran's frozen asset pile during that six-month period. If there is no final deal at the end of six months, the interim deal will expire because it is not by its terms a final deal. And if Iran does not consent to a comprehensive agreement that ensures it cannot acquire a nuclear weapon, there is a broad consensus in Congress to impose even tougher sanctions."

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

"This agreement will not 'freeze' Iran's nuclear program and won't require the regime to suspend all enrichment as required by multiple UN Security Council resolutions. By allowing the Iranian regime to retain a sizable nuclear infrastructure, this agreement makes a nuclear Iran more likely. There is now an even more urgent need for Congress to increase sanctions until Iran completely abandons its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

"This agreement shows other rogue states that wish to go nuclear that you can obfuscate, cheat, and lie for a decade, and eventually the United States will tire and drop key demands. Iran will likely use this agreement - and any that follows that does not require any real concessions - to obtain a nuclear weapons capability.

"This agreement is a blow to our allies in the region who are already concerned about America's commitment to their security and it sends the wrong message to the Iranian people, who continue to suffer under the repressive rule of their leaders who have only their own self-preservation in mind.

"Just days ago, Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei, who will oversee implementation of this agreement, was calling Israel a 'rabid dog' and accusing the United States of war crimes. Yet today President Obama is asking us to accept the pledges of this regime, which still refuses to end its support for terrorism and admit the illicit nature of its past nuclear work."

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill), who has been advocating for stricter sanctions on Iran:

"I share the President's goal of finding a diplomatic solution to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, but this deal appears to provide the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions that neither fully freeze nor significantly roll back its nuclear infrastructure. Furthermore, the deal ignores Iran's continued sponsorship of terrorism, its testing of long-range ballistic missiles and its abuse of human rights.

"I will continue working with my colleagues to craft bipartisan legislation that will impose tough new economic sanctions if Iran undermines this interim accord or if the dismantlement of Iran's nuclear infrastructure is not underway by the end of this six-month period."

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

For other comments from members of both parties, visit the PostPolitics blog.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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