Voters in key battleground states are highly ambivalent about the Obama administration’s tentative nuclear deal with Iran.
While three out of every four Americans support the negotiated deal to gradually lift economic sanctions in return for Tehran curtailing its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, almost two-thirds of those surveyed said that Congress must have the opportunity to approve or reject the deal -- a position strongly opposed by President Obama.
The latest findings in a Quinnipiac University survey of voters in Colorado, Iowa and Virginia come as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is about to debate proposed legislation on Tuesday that would prevent the administration from lifting sanctions for 60 days while Congress reviewed the terms of a final agreement that the U.S., Iran and five other countries hope to reach by the end of June.
Even while the president has warned Congress of the dangers of interfering with the delicate talks with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz and other members of Obama’s national security team are set to begin providing closed door briefings to lawmakers on Tuesday in hopes of minimizing congressional intervention. Obama said over the weekend after the Summit of the Americas in Panama that he wants to work with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) and other Republican and Democratic members so that Congress would withhold judgment until the details of a final agreement emerge.
“What I’m concerned about is making sure that we don’t prejudge it, or those who are opposed to any deal whatsoever try to use a procedural argument essential to screw up the possibility of a deal after two years of often intense and complex negotiations,” Obama said.
Many Republicans are dubious about the terms of the preliminary agreement reached April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland and are skeptical that the Iranians would live up to an agreement. Senate Armed Services Committee Chair went so far last week as to accuse Kerry of having misrepresented the terms of the tentative agreement – an allegation that Obama angrily repudiated over the weekend.
However, Obama’s efforts to win support for the tentative deal were hurt last Thursday when Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, challenged the Obama administration’s characterization of key provisions of the agreement. Khamenei declared that all economic sanctions would have to be lifted on the day any final agreement is signed and that military sites would be strictly off limits to foreign inspections, while the administration says the sanctions would be gradually lifted and that inspectors would have access to all Iranian nuclear facilities.
Some Democrats – including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York – believe strongly that Congress must have the right to review the final plan and determine whether sanctions should be lifted, although Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the new ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee is working to dilute some provisions of the Corker bill.
Unlike Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and other adamant opponents of the preliminary agreement, the low-key Corker is trying to steer the debate toward a sensible middle ground and has spent days trying to broker a deal with the White House.
With supporters close to amassing a veto-proof majority of 67 Republicans and Democrats for a measure giving Congress some authority over lifting economic sanctions against Iran, tomorrow’s meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee could prove crucial in determining whether a negotiated settlement with Iran over the future of its nuclear program is possible.
Based on the findings of the latest Quinnipiac poll, the public is as divided as Congress on how to proceed.
“Voters in Colorado, Iowa and Virginia are ambivalent about any proposed nuclear deal with Iran,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll in a statement. “Two-thirds like the idea of an agreement that would restrict Iran’s ability to continue its nuclear weapons program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. And by almost 5-1, voters prefer a diplomatic solution. Those numbers indicate support for President Obama’s efforts to sell the deal.”
At the same time, however, almost two-thirds say that Congress must have the opportunity to approve or reject the deal. Colorado voters agreed by a margin of 67 percent to 23 percent that Congress must play a role. Iowan voter favored congressional involvement, 64 percent to 24 percent, while Virginians agreed with that, 61 percent to 31 percent.
Moreover, there is widespread skepticism that Iranian government officials are capable of negotiating in good faith and living up to any final agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued in a speech to a joint session of Congress March 3 that Iran could not be trusted and that the emerging agreement would simply postpone Iran’s inevitable development of a nuclear weapons that would further destabilize the Middle East and threaten Israel’s existence.
But voters by double-digit margins say that it was inappropriate for 47 Senate Republicans, led by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, to send a letter to the Iranian leadership in early March seeking to undercut their negotiations with the U.S.
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