Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Friday, October 21, 2016

By Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State John Kerry intensified efforts on Tuesday to beat back criticism of the Iran nuclear deal and convince U.S. lawmakers that rejecting it would give Tehran a fast track to a weapon and unlock billions of dollars from collapsed sanctions.

Battle-hardened from years of negotiations with Iranians, Kerry sharpened his response to U.S. congressional criticism that the deal’s provisions were temporary and would not prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in the long run.

“Iran has agreed to refrain from producing or acquiring highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium for nuclear weapons forever,” he told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

“When it comes to verification and monitoring, there is absolutely no sunset in this agreement. Not in 10 years, not in 15 years, not in 20 years, not in 25 years; no sunset ever.”

“If you kill the deal, you are not making America safer,” he said.

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 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 pact, world powers agreed to lift sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on a nuclear program the West suspects was aimed at creating an atomic bomb, but which Tehran says is peaceful.

The four-hour hearing turned testy. Some Republican House members shouted at Kerry, days after Senate Republicans accused him of having been “bamboozled” or “fleeced” during the talks.


Kerry visibly lost patience at times. He said he was hearing many complaints about what the agreement doesn’t do, while opponents offered no alternative.

“What this agreement is supposed to do is stop them from having a nuclear weapon. Now I want to hear somebody tell me how they’re going to do that without this agreement,” he said.

Kerry insisted walking away 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 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 top Democrat, said he saw a number of troublesome issues in the agreement.

Both Republicans and Democrats expressed concern about Americans 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 Democrat.

Many Democrats say they have not decided how they would vote, when Congress returns in September from a five-week recess. But a few have come out in favor.

Kerry noted during the hearing that Representative Sander Levin, the longest serving Jewish member of the House, issued a statement on Tuesday saying he backed the deal.

Kerry, Lew and Moniz also testified in the Senate on Thursday, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter is among officials due to speak to lawmakers later this week.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Howard Goller, G Crosse and Andrew Hay)

Photo: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Iran nuclear agreement in Washington, July 28, 2015.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria 

  • bobnstuff

    The congress will say no, that is their only word these days. They solve no problems and never come up with plans to deal with problems. If we walk away from this deal the US becomes a non player on the world stage. The claim the being the most powerful nation on earth will end. If Iran doesn’t get the bomb it won’t be because of anything we have done and we lose a chance to gain a new market for our goods.

  • Dominick Vila

    If we take Bibi Netanyahu, and our intelligence agencies, at their word, Iran is within a few months of developing a nuclear weapon. Well, at least that’s what Bib has been telling us during the past dozen years or so. Seriously, and regardless of whether or not it is true that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, and how close they may be to achieving that goal, doesn’t it make more sense to have an agreement, that includes physical inspections, in place to ensure our foe does not make a nuclear weapon, than have nothing and let them develop one? The arguments, which range from inadequate inspection terms, to Iran having higher revenues and being able to fund terrorism if the sanctions are lifted, to Iranian chanting Death to America, and every other excuse in the GOP and pro-Israeli lobby playbook, are nothing short of pathetic. Opposition to this agreement is influenced by the need to deprive President Obama of another major diplomatic breakthrough, tarnish his legacy, ensure financial and military support to Israel continues at the current levels, and our military complex is not affected.
    Then again, there are some among us that are terrified by the prospect of Iran having a nuclear weapon, and maybe even a delivery system, and destroying the country with the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world, and the delivery system to launch them and drop them wherever we want with pinpoint accuracy. Add to that the fact that Israel has the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and the best trained and armed military forces in the region, and you really have to be naive to even consider this a crisis, never mind a threat to our national security or interests..

    • johninPCFL

      Bibi has ben telling us that Iran will have a weapon in a few months EVERY YEAR FOR THE LAST 20 YEARS. Either Iran has the most inept nuclear scientists on the planet, or Bibi has been successfully lying to us for decades.

      • Dominick Vila

        The latter is probably closer to the truth.

    • YyY

      “doesn’t it make more sense to have an agreement, that includes physical inspections,” – – it sure does make more sense, but ‘sense’ does not get the same volume of votes as does ‘fear’. As old as I am, I still find it amazing that the peddling of ‘threats and fears’ (I am tempted to list them) gets so many elected!

      • Dominick Vila

        As you know, fear has been used since the beginning of mankind, very effectively, to control the masses, and by the looks of things it will remain the centerpiece of the strategies used by those who have nothing constructive to offer.

  • CrankyToo

    Ten bucks to donuts the Republican-infested Congress phuks this one up (as per usual).

  • TZToronto

    The shortsightedness of the opponents to this agreement is amazing. This is rather simple. Either take the agreement and have something tangible to work with, or scrap the agreement and have nothing at all. And it’s not just the usual-suspect Republicans who can’t seem to see the obvious. Fear of political contributions that won’t be there in 2016 make it difficult for some Democrats to favor the agreement.

  • @HawaiianTater

    Due to their blind hatred of Obama and their desire to line the pockets of their war contractor buddies, the thing that Republicans seem to fail to understand is that this is not an Obama and Iran deal. It’s a deal between the P5+1 and Iran. They don’t have the power that they think they do to kill this deal. Kerry is right. If we walk away, we walk away alone. Without the rest of the world powers, our sanctions are toothless.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    Prediction: The Jews in the US will have been most instrumental in turning more Americans against them and their Israel fetish. If Israel is so important to these Jewish US protestors, what, besides, allowing Israel to be the sole nuke nation in the Middle East can they offer? More sanctions? For another 20 years?

    The truth about the GOP Big Oil boys will come out that they manipulated Netanyahu into believing the Iran Treaty EVER was about Iran and Israel. It was anything but.

    Face facts. In 2014, OPEC refused US Big Oil’s request to reduce oil production and their oil prices. If Iran begins to sell their oil, Iran as No. 2 world oil supplier, cuts US Big Oil profits even more.

    This never was about protecting Israel. It was about protecting US Big Oil from never losing an opportunity to jack the prices of oil. 4 US states are the most dependent on oil and will stoop as low as they must to keep oil profits rolling in.