CAPITOL HILL - U.S. lawmakers emerged from a closed-door meeting with top intelligence officials giving widely diverging views on America’s ability to detect any cheating by Iran on the terms of last month’s landmark international nuclear accord.
“No, I am not confident of that,” said Republican Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I don’t think anybody could tell you that they are particularly confident about that.”
Corker spoke after a classified briefing by the director of National Intelligence’s top deputy for Iran.
Committee members were able to read top-secret documents and ask questions about the U.S. intelligence community’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear program and detect atomic activities – including any violations of Tehran’s commitments to the international community.
Corker said the task is far greater than simply keeping tabs on Iran’s known nuclear facilities.
“Surely they (Iran) would not be so foolish as to do things at their declared (nuclear) sites,” Corker said. “The essence of concern, and that was not alleviated in this meeting at all – the essence is, what they are doing covertly, and our ability to detect that?”
Democratic Senator Tim Kaine disagreed.
“They (Iran) have cheated and we have known about it before we had inspections. We are going to get very rigorous inspections, Iran-specific inspections,” Kaine said.
“I think the intel folks have confidence that their intel, plus what we get from inspections, will put us in a good position to determine cheating,” the senator added.
Kaine declined to share specifics from the classified briefing, but said intelligence officials “are honest and candid about strengths, about weaknesses, about things they know and about things they don’t. I found the intel materials I read in the briefing room very good.”
Congress has 60 days to review and vote on the nuclear pact with Iran. Those votes would likely come in September, after lawmakers return from their annual August recess.
Neither Republican-led chamber is expected to approve the accord.
President Barack Obama has promised to veto any congressional vote of disapproval. Opponents of the deal would need two-thirds votes in both houses to override the veto.
Selling the pact
Obama has sent his top lieutenants from multiple agencies to Capitol Hill to try to sell the pact to lawmakers.
“I think by the time this is done, everybody will have a very fulsome view of the deal,” Corker said. “And then people are going to have to make a really tough decision as how they feel about whether it should go forward or not.”
Some new polls show a dip in public backing for the accord.
Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said if the deal fails in Congress, it won’t be from lack of effort by the administration.
“It’s the deal itself,” McCain said, adding the administration is doing everything possible to put a positive spin on the deal.
Disagrees with criticism
Kaine disagreed with some of the criticism heard on Capitol Hill.
“What you hear a lot of people talking about is: Is it better than any other hypothetical alternative you could put on the table?” Kaine said. “I think it is easier to make the analysis: Where is this with respect to the known status quo? Where was the Iranian program before this diplomatic effort started? And where is it as a result of this deal?”
“With that comparison, I think it is just night and day, dramatically better for the first 15 years (of the accord),” Kaine added.