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US Lawmakers Divided on Iran Nuclear Pact

  • Michael Bowman

FILE - Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 9, 2015.

FILE - Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 9, 2015.

U.S. lawmakers gave sharply diverging reactions to the landmark nuclear accord announced with Iran, with Republicans far more hostile than most Democrats.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted President Barack Obama would have a “real challenge” getting the pact through a skeptical, Republican-led Congress, and criticized it as “the best deal acceptable to Iran, rather than one that might actually end Iran’s nuclear program."

“The Iranians appear to have prevailed in this negotiation, maintaining thousands of centrifuges, enriching their threshold nuclear capability instead of ending it, reaping a multibillion-dollar windfall to spend freely on terrorism,” he added.

WATCH: VOA's Cindy Saine reports on divided congressional reaction:

Similarly, House Speaker John Boehner said Obama “abandoned his own goals” for negotiations with Tehran.

“His 'deal' will hand Iran billions in sanctions relief while giving it time and space to reach a breakout threshold to produce a nuclear bomb — all without cheating," Boehner said.

"Instead of making the world less dangerous, this ‘deal’ will only embolden Iran — the world’s largest sponsor of terror — by helping stabilize and legitimize its regime,” he added.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sounded a cautiously jubilant note.

"The historic nuclear agreement announced today is the product of years of tough, bold and clear-eyed leadership from President Obama," Pelosi said.

"I commend the president for his strength throughout the historic negotiations that have led to this point. We have no illusions about the Iranian regime. ... All options remain on the table should Iran take any steps toward a nuclear weapon or deviate from the terms of this agreement," she added.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid echoed Pelosi's measured optimism.

"The world community agrees that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable and a threat to our national security. Now it’s incumbent on Congress to review this agreement with a thoughtful, level-headed process an agreement of this magnitude deserves," Reid said.

Congressional Review

Congress will have 60 days to review and, should it choose, vote to approve or reject the pact.

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Ed Royce, said the deal would accomplish too little for too brief a time.

“We might feel better if the United States was able to permanently constrain Iran’s worrying nuclear program," Royce said in a statement. "But the key restriction — the ability to enrich at high-levels — begins to expire in as little as 10 years. Just 10 years. Most Americans will take three times longer to pay off their mortgage.”

Comments at the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Iran Nuclear Deal:


Others withheld immediate judgment.

"I very much look forward to digging into the details of the deal," Democratic Senator Chris Coons told VOA.

"Now we need to move forward with thorough hearings. … I have to balance my deep suspicion of Iran and concerns about their intentions with the hope that there might be a diplomatic solution," he said.

Congressional approval would require at least some Republican backing for the pact.

Already, some Republicans are pledging "no" votes and attempting to rally opposition to the accord.

"If we have to work against a bad agreement — a flawed deal that threatens our country and our allies — I assure you we will," McConnell said.

Anticipating such resistance, Obama promised to veto any congressional attempt to derail the initiative. Overriding a veto would require significant numbers of Democrats to join with Republicans.

But McConnell turned the argument around, noting that the president would need 34 Senate Democrats to stand with him to sustain a veto. “It will be a real challenge for him, because I think it [the deal] falls short in many ways,” McConnell said.

Secretary of State John Kerry said he doubted lawmakers would stand in the way of a deal negotiated by world powers.

"If Congress were to veto the deal, the U.S. would be in noncompliance. I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Kerry said.

Measured Response

Not all reaction was along strictly partisan lines.

Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito told VOA she was taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I am naturally skeptical,” Capito said. “But we’ll see where it goes. It’s early yet.”

In contrast, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez told VOA he had deep reservations.

"We recognize Iran as a threshold nuclear state. Secondly, we don’t end Iran’s nuclear program, we preserve it," Menendez said.

"And then lifting the arms embargo on a country that already [is] the largest state sponsor of terrorism and is destabilizing in Yemen, in Lebanon, in Syria, and in Iraq is a real tough pill to swallow," he added.

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