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McConnell: Potential Iran Nuclear Deal ‘Hard Sell’ in Congress

  • Victor Beattie

FILE - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to the media during a news conference following a Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill.

FILE - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to the media during a news conference following a Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said any nuclear agreement that emerges from talks in Vienna between Iran and six world powers will leave Tehran as a “threshold nuclear state” and added it would be a “hard sell” to gain congressional approval. House Speaker John Boehner insists that no deal is better than a bad deal that would “legitimize” a rogue regime.

McConnell told U.S. television Sunday that it appears the Obama Administration’s approach to the talks is to reach any agreement the Iranians are willing to enter into. McConnell said there was another option.

"Rather than spending multiple years trying to get one of the worst regimes in the world to agree to limit their nuclear capability, we could have ratcheted up the sanctions even further because that’s what brought them to the (negotiating) table in the first place. But the administration chose to go down this path and we’re going to be interested in things like will the Iranians reveal their past research and development, what have they done in the past on this subject, is it verifiable, will we be able to look at all their military bases," said McConnell.

McConnell said also weighing on lawmakers is Iran’s ballistic missile capability and its “collateral activities” in places such as Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen.

Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed into law the Iran Nuclear Deal Review Act in May giving lawmakers the authority to approve or reject a nuclear agreement. The Senate passed the measure 98-1 and it sailed through the House of Representatives 400-25, both veto-proof majorities.

It gives lawmakers up to 60 days to review an agreement and bars the president from lifting any sanctions during that review period. The president could sign it or veto it and Congress would have to muster a two-thirds majority in each chamber to override a veto.

Appearing on a separate U.S. program Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner said no deal with Iran is better than a bad deal.

"And from everything that’s leaked from the negotiations [in Vienna], the [Obama] administration has backed away from almost all of the guidelines that they set out for themselves, and I don’t want to see a bad deal," said Boehner.

Boehner said sanctions should remain until Iran abandons its effort to obtain a nuclear weapon and stops being the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. He said a standoff with Iran is better than, in his words, legitimizing a rogue regime.

A key member of the Senate, Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, said the negotiations with Iran have been on what he calls a downward trend. Corker said we “crossed the Rubicon” when the negotiations went from dismantling Iran’s nuclear program to agreeing to uranium enrichment and managing Iran’s nuclear proliferation.

"And, there are some key issues that remain that I hope we will hold firm to. We’ve got to ensure that this is verifiable, that we have anytime, anywhere inspections, that they are accountable, that we know what their previous military dimensions were, that we have access to all their scientists. We know they were building a bomb. We just want to know how far they got in previous efforts. And thirdly, we need to make sure it’s enforceable. Likely, Iran will cheat by inches meaning they will just cheat, cheat, cheat and over time it’s like boiling an egg [and] they end up with a nuclear weapon," said Corker.

Corker said he believes lawmakers will, in the end, vote their consciences regardless of how the rest of the world sees the agreement. He thinks the prospect of congressional overview has stiffened the backs of U.S. negotiators.

The committee’s ranking member, Bob Menendez, said the agreement emerging from Vienna makes him anxious as he watches the negotiations evolve from preventing Iran from having a nuclear capability to managing it. He added that the world seems to be prepared to roll back sanctions for the promise of verification, not the original objective of dismantling Iran’s nuclear infrastructure:

"We have to make very clear that there is a deterrence in the longer term because, if not, in 12, 13 years we’ll be exactly back to where we are today except Iran will have $100 billion, $150-billion more in its pocket and promoting terrorism throughout the Middle East," said Menendez.

He said Iran must be made to understand that the U.S. cannot accept an Iran with a nuclear weapon. Republican Senator Tom Cotton warned that the United States has gone way too far down the road in making concessions to Iran and any agreement that emerges from Vienna will be “dangerous for the United States and dangerous for the world.”

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