Republicans on Wednesday kept up their drum beat against President Obama’s negotiations with Iran over that country’s nuclear program. This time, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) suggested that President Obama was pulling his punches in the war against ISIS terrorists for fear of offending Iranian officials who are wary of a widening U.S. military presence in the Middle East.
During a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering new war powers for Obama in leading air strikes against ISIS, Rubio declared to three top administration officials: “I believe that much of our strategy with regards to ISIS is being driven by a desire not to upset Iran so they will not walk away from the negotiating table on the deal that you’re working on.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry repeatedly told Rubio, a likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, that he was “flat out wrong” and that there was no connection between the efforts to block the Iranians’ development of a nuclear weapon and the U.S.-allied strategy for fighting and eventually defeating the powerful terrorist organization.
“There is no grand bargain being discussed here in the context of this negotiation,” Kerry said. “This is about a nuclear weapon potential. That’s it. And the President has made it absolutely clear they will not get a nuclear weapon. The presumption by a lot of people up on the Hill here has been that we somehow aren’t aware of that goal even as we negotiate that goal.”
Rubio and others are also suggesting that U.S. allies in the Middle East – including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries controlled by Sunni governments, may be suspicious that Obama is cutting deals with the Shiite dominated Iran that might work to their disadvantage in the future.
Kerry insisted that Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the Middle East are comfortable with a strategy of negotiating first with Iran on their nuclear program before considering more sanctions or even military action. However, he added that all the allies are uneasy about whether an acceptable deal can be reached that would prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
Rubio’s assertion was the latest attempt by the new Republican majority in Congress to attack the Obama administrations negotiations with Iran. The administration is seeking to forestall Tehran’s development of a nuclear weapons capability for a decade or longer in return for gradually lifting international economic sanctions against Iran.
Most Republicans and some Democrats fear that Obama is giving away too much in the talks and that Iran eventually will emerge as a nuclear threat to Israel and beyond. They are pushing for legislation that would require a congressional review of any deal before it takes effect. They also favor imposing more economic sanctions as added leverage.
Two issues punctuate the passion behind the GOP’s efforts to derail Obama’s deal with Iran.
- On Monday, 47 Republicans signed an open letter to Iran’s leadership warning that any agreement it negotiates with Obama without legislative approval could be reversed by the next president “with the stroke of a pen.” The White House and some Democrats denounced the letter as unprecedented congressional meddling that could play into the hands of conservative forces in Iran who also are attempting to torpedo the talks.
- Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – an arch foe of the nuclear talks – was allowed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress denouncing the emerging nuclear agreement just weeks before the deadline for concluding the talks.
Democrats said that the letter, written by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), had undermined Obama’s efforts to reach an agreement, and both moves violated time-honored Congressional protocol.
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