The Cable

Top Obama Officials Take on Iran Deal Skeptics in Congress

In a heated battle of words on Capitol Hill, senior U.S. officials defended the Obama administration’s nuclear accord with Iran on Thursday in the face of unanimous Republican opposition.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks while US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (C) and US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew (R) listen during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill July 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew appeared before the committee to defend the Obama administrations proposed deal with Iran over the county's nuclear program. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks while US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (C) and US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew (R) listen during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill July 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew appeared before the committee to defend the Obama administrations proposed deal with Iran over the county's nuclear program. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a heated battle of words on Capitol Hill, senior U.S. officials defended the Obama administration’s nuclear accord with Iran on Thursday in the face of unanimous Republican opposition.

The testy showdown at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pitted Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew against the chairman of the committee, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and a parade of fired-up Republicans.

“I believe you’ve been fleeced,” charged Corker.

“You guys have been bamboozled,” added Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho).

The deal is “fundamentally flawed” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Touching on a broad array of issues — from sanctions relief, to nuclear inspections, to the past military uses of Iran’s nuclear program — the three U.S. officials pushed back while playing to their respective strengths: Moniz on the contours of the nuclear fuel cycle, Kerry on diplomacy, and Lew on economic sanctions.

“The choice we face is between a deal that will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is limited, rigorously scrutinized, and wholly peaceful — or no deal at all,” said Kerry. “Let me underscore the alternative to the deal we’ve reached isn’t a better deal — some sort of unicorn arrangement involving Iran’s complete capitulation. That’s a fantasy, plain and simple.”

Responding to the attacks on Kerry being “fleeced” by Iran, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) noted that U.S. allies, including Britain, France, Germany, Australia, Jordan, and New Zealand all support the Iran deal.  “My colleagues think that you were fleeced, that you were bamboozled,” said Boxer. “That means everybody was fleeced and bamboozled, everybody, almost everybody in the world.”

Multiple Republican lawmakers complained anew that the State Department did not submit all the aspects of the Iran deal to Congress. One sore point in particular: missing documents detailing the so-called “side deals” between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

“One of the items we don’t have is regarding the agreement between Iran and the IAEA, and my sense is we’re never going to get that letter,” said Corker.

The documents have not been made public. They outline an arrangement in which Iran will account for previous military uses of its nuclear program. Officials in President Barack Obama’s administration have promised to share the contents of those documents in a classified setting.

In explaining the secrecy, IAEA spokesman Fredrik Dahl told Foreign Policy that nations on the receiving end of inspections routinely require confidentiality “in order to prevent dissemination of sensitive information, to meet safety or physical protection requirements, or to protect proprietary information.”

“The IAEA regularly agrees on specific arrangements with states to facilitate practical implementation of its safeguards-related activities,” said Dahl.

The deal between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany places restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic. Congress has until Sept. 17 to approve or reject a deal.

The selling of the deal in Congress comes as Defense Secretary Ash Carter crisscrosses the Middle East to settle nerves in Riyadh and Jerusalem. This week, he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whose stubborn opposition to the deal remains as strong as ever. Meetings with Saudi officials on Thursday, including Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, seem to have gone comparatively much better. al-Jubeir told reporters that the contents of the deal appear to effectively cut off Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear bomb.

“We are currently in talks with the American government regarding these details, but [the deal] generally seems to have achieved these objectives,” he said.

 

Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

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