The Obama administration continued its push to sell the Iran nuclear deal to the public and to a dubious United States Congress on Sunday, as two of the deal’s lead negotiators, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz hit all of the major Sunday morning talk shows. They were countered, though, by fierce opposition, both from lawmakers and from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who continued to argue vehemently against the pact.
The deal, struck between Iran and six major world powers, the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China, is meant to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon by sharply limiting its ability to process uranium.
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In exchange for accepting cuts to its nuclear program and an intrusive inspections and monitoring regime, Iran receives relief from international sanctions, some of which have been hobbling its economy for a generation. That will mean an immediate windfall of more than $100 billion in frozen assets, the ability to sell oil freely on the international market, and eventually, the lifting of an embargo restricting arms sales to the Islamic Republic.
Critics of the deal object to many elements of it, but most of the arguments share a single assumption as their starting point: that Iran is negotiating in bad faith.
The preamble of the agreement contains the explicit statement, “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”
“We have to assume that they will cheat on the deal,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a veteran of the Iraq war who has been vocally in opposition to any deal with Iran,” said on Meet the Press.
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Netanyahu, who faces frequent calls for the destruction of his country from the Iranian leadership, called it Tehran’s “dream deal.”
“It paves their way to many, many bombs after a decade or so,” Netanyahu said, calling it “a very bad deal with a very bad regime.”
The deal “almost guarantees that there will be an arms race in the Middle East,” said Florida senator and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination Marco Rubio.
Not even the Obama administration’s political allies were all rushing to support it. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, refused to commit himself to a position when it comes time for Congress to vote on whether or not to approve the deal.
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“My obligations are to the people of this country…I’m going to do what’s in the best interests of this country,” Cardin said, on Fox News.
So they shouldn’t count on you? Asked host Chris Wallace.
“It’s not a matter of what party I belong to,” Cardin said. “It’s not a matter of supporting the president. The question is what’s in the best interests of this country.”
The vote Cardin was discussing is part of a process Congress and the president agreed on earlier this year, which gives lawmakers 60 days to assess the deal before voting to approve it or disapprove it. A vote of disapproval could be vetoed by Obama, allowing the deal to go forward, unless two thirds of each house of Congress vote to override the veto.
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“If Congress were to kill this,” Kerry warned on CNN, “then we have no inspections, no sanctions, no ability to negotiate – because I assure you, the Ayatollah? if the United States arbitrarily and unilaterally kills this, you’re not going to have another negotiation, and they will feel free to go do the very things this prevents.”
Kerry, who has been combative in the face of many attacks on the deal as naïve or rushed, responded to one question from CNN’s Jake Tapper with an aggressive defense.
“Guess what, my friend?” Kerry said. “Iran has 12,000 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, and that’s enough, if they enriched it further for 10 to 12 bombs. They have it. That’s what Barack Obama was dealt as a hand when he came in. Nineteen thousand centrifuges already spinning, a country that had already mastered the fuel cycle, a country that already was threshold in the sense that they are only 2 months away from breakout.”
Kerry also took aim at the assertion that Iran has a clear path to a bomb, outlining what he called “unprecedented” an inspection regime.
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“So we’re expanding that breakout from two months to one year, for 10 years and longer, and we have lifetime inspection, adherence to the [International Atomic Energy Agency], adherence to the advance protocol, 25 years of tracking and monitoring their uranium from mining to milling to yellowcake to gas to centrifuge to waste. That’s unprecedented and we would not have had that without this agreement.”
Kerry’s position was backed up by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who appeared on Meet the Press.
“This is the better outcome; it keeps Iran away from a nuclear weapon,” he said. “Fundamentally, this is the toughest set of proposals put in place…that we’ve seen in any of these negotiations.”
Others in favor of the deal point out that the current sanctions regime was poised to crumble anyway – many of the existing U.S. sanctions were in place in order to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and a number of U.S. allies have indicated that they are in favor of ending them now that negotiations have taken place.
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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and a key ally of the administration reinforced that point on Face the Nation, saying, “Regardless of what we do, these nations will drop their sanctions at some point.”
Asked if she thought the deal would survive Congress, she said, “I hope so,” and added, “I believe it’s our one opportunity.”