The Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew during their testimony on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Following more than four hours of testimony, it appears Kerry and the Obama administration want Congress to think that if it doesn’t agree to this deal with Iran as it is currently drafted, then war would result.
Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) began by thanking everyone for being at the hearing saying they wouldn’t be there without passing the Iran Nuclear Review Act, which he sponsored. “Over the objections of Sen. Cardin and myself, unfortunately the executive branch went directly to the United Nations this Monday morning,” Corker jabbed at the administration, adding that while Kerry has said Congress would have the ability to weigh in on the final deal, Congress now realizes it would be eight years from now – because that is the time specified in the agreement.
“It was either this deal or war,” Corker mocked about not being able to question or oppose the deal.
Corker said the agreement “codifies the industrialization of their nuclear program – amazing, amazing transition that has occurred.” He continued, “There’s not one practical need for the program they are doing” adding there is not a single scientist or witness that can layout reasoning for Iran to be developing this program. Corker said the agreement places the U.S. in the position of a “sanction snap back” versus a “nuclear snap back” if the U.S. were to add sanctions, then Iran can immediately step back from the deal.
“Based on my reading, I believe you have crossed a new threshold in U.S. foreign policy,” Corker stated, saying the administration is now enabling a state sponsor of terror to obtain a nuclear program.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) then addressed the hearing. “We’re on day four of our review… and I have not reached a conclusion,” Cardin said, requesting Congress allow those who were involved in the negotiation to make their case. He wants Congress to get all the information before making a judgment.
Cardin said he wants to “applaud our negotiators” that returned with results from Vienna. The hearing Thursday, Cardin stated, has a simple objective which is to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, saying it would be a “game changer in the region” if Iran were to get a nuclear weapon. He said the committee wants to know the timing for inspections and what the consequences would be if Congress doesn’t approve the final deal.
Secretary John Kerry then spoke defending his deal. “You’re looking at what the international community…negotiated, and they’re not dumb. They’re experts,” he said to the committee.
Kerry said there are no sanctions off the table at anytime, meaning the United States can put them back in place if necessary. He warned that if lawmakers didn’t accept his agreement, the pact with other countries would “disappear overnight.” He argued the choice is between an agreement to make sure Iran’s nuclear program is scrutinized or having no deal at all. “This plan was designed to address the nuclear issue…alone,” Kerry pledged. “We were disciplined in that.”
“The outcome cannot be guaranteed by sanctions alone…I wish it could…it also can’t be guaranteed by military action alone. Our own military tells us that,” Kerry argued. He said this diplomatic deal is the only solution and “will make our country and our allies safer” because it makes sure the Iran nuclear program remains under scrutiny.
Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz followed up Kerry’s remarks saying, “I want to stress that America’s leading nuclear experts” were involved through these negotiations. Moniz said they were essential to evaluating and developing proposals and the Department of Energy stands by ready to assist.
Cardin then questioned Lew as to whether the U.S. has full ability to use sanctions against Iran for its support of terrorism. Lew responded, “We made clear in the negotiations that we retained the ability and we were going to keep in place sanctions on terrorism.” He added the negotiation made clear the United States has the right to put additional sanctions on Iran in place on issues such as terrorism and human rights.
Cardin then addressed Kerry on specific assurances over the next 15 years that Iran would comply. Kerry said that, “Throughout the entire life of the agreement” there is a 24-hour notice for inspection and Iran must respond to it. He added that if Iran were to not respond, the countries bound by the agreement can meet and decide whether or not to implement sanctions back on Iran.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) slammed the administration’s support of the deal. “The mantra has changed dramatically,” Risch stated. “We have no choice in this because we have gone from the position where we started where we had Iran isolated … if we don’t go along with this, we’re told, the other negotiators will go along with this” and the U.S. will be isolated, Risch argued.
Risch said he believes verification that Iran is complying is the top issue. He said it is “naive” and “ludicrous” to say this is a good deal. Kerry responded, “Naive if you think it is a good deal?” Kerry then showed a Washington Post article that cites Israelis who support the Iran deal.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) then addressed the committee. “I don’t think the American people want another war…at the end of the day that’s really the option,” she began, after shaming her colleagues on the committee for calling the negotiators naive.
Boxer asked Kerry, Moniz and Lew whether the United Kingdom supports this accord. Kerry affirmed.
The exchange between Boxer and Kerry continued as follows:
Boxer: Does Australia?
Boxer: Does Germany?
Boxer: Does France?
Boxer: Does New Zealand?
Kerry, looked confused, so Boxer said that New Zealand voted for the agreement.
Boxer: Did Jordan?
Boxer: Nigeria…Lithuania…“You get the drift,” she continued.
“Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances that Iran will never seek, require or develop nuclear weapons,” she stated, reading from the agreement. Boxer’s defense of the administrations negotiation demonstrates she opposes her colleagues on the committee who question the respectability of the deal.
GOP presidential candidate and member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) then addressed the committee hearing. “As far as the administration understands – this is a done deal,” Rubio challenged. “This is a deal whose survival is not guaranteed,” he warned, saying it could be invalidated by the next president.
“This deal is fundamentally … flawed,” Rubio argued, explaining that it weakens national security and makes the world a more dangerous place. Rubio questioned one aspect of the agreement where he believed it stated that if Israel were to sabotage the deal, or bomb one of Iran’s sites, the United States would be bound under the deal to protect Iran and respond to the threat. Moniz responded in the negative, arguing the United States would not be bound to do so.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) – unlike Boxer – may be a Democratic vote the administration cannot rely on, following his heightened scrutiny during the testimony, appearing to side with Republican colleagues on the committee.
“I am concerned…the deal…commits the international community over time” and allows Iran to develop a nuclear program, Menendez criticized. “I think it fails to appreciate Iran’s history of deception in its nuclear program.”
Menendez said he read a clause within the deal that seems to say Congress cannot reintroduce the existing nuclear sanctions, which expire at the end of the next year. Lew responded to that statement, “The sanctions that are being lifted if Iran complies… we said we would not reimpose nuclear sanctions if they live with the nuclear agreement.”
Kerry and Menendez went back and forth as Kerry continued to interrupt and attempted to chime into the exchange.
“You’ve been with the Iranians two years, I have seven minutes,” Menendez fired back at Kerry.
GOP presidential candidate and committee member Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) also agreed with Menendez on the historically questionable trustworthiness of Iran. “It does have to be a good deal,” Paul said to Kerry asking him to describe Iran’s trust factor.
“There’s no trust built into this deal,” Kerry responded.
“We have a history of untrustworthiness…so really then it comes down to a good agreement…will this stop them from having a nuclear weapon? Sure, if they comply,” Paul argued, saying he believes the snap back sanctions could force compliance.
Paul also questioned that following the deal, “immediately the Iranians say the opposite of what we are being told.” Kerry said the Ayatollah said this to his people because he doesn’t believe the Americans stopped Iran, but rather Iran didn’t want to develop nuclear weapons in the first place.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) followed up Johnson and essentially cheerleaded Kerry for reaching an agreement. Shaheen appears to be another Democratic vote – with Boxer – who would side with the administration in clearing this deal.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) came out guns blazing, highly critical of Kerry and the others on the deal reached. Gardner pointed out names, which are listed in the agreement but have been linked and involved in Iran’s nuclear program, even pointing out one individual who had been previously blacklisted by the United Nations.
Lew responded, “I’m reluctant to get into individual names.”
Gardner asks, “If they’re in there, why would you be reluctant?” adding, what message does this send to other proliferaters around the world.
Lew responded to Gardner’s inquiry saying, if Iran or any actor violates the rules and develops nuclear weapons, the United States and the world will come against that actor and it will have substantial consequences.
Gardner launched back, asking if Kerry, Moniz or Lew could list which Americans have been released as a result of the deal. There are none, he stated. Gardner also countered the Washington Post story Kerry tried to use as an argument that some Israeli officials support the Iran deal.
Gardner continued to challenge Kerry on whether or not Kerry believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is critical of the deal, knows what he is talking about.
Kerry said that he and Netanyahu are still talking even in amidst of this disagreement, adding that he understands Israel’s concerns, and that he understands the concerns Netanyahu voiced. “We just happen to disagree about the impact of what is going to happen here,” Kerry stated.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) then raised questions about inspections, asking about the Iranians making the commitment that they wouldn’t continue any research that would lead to the development of a nuclear explosive device, seeking assurances on issues related to inspections.
“There’s nothing in this agreement based on trust,” Kerry stated, saying the deal is based on verification.
Kerry warned that if Congress were to vote down the deal, after the administration said they came to the negotiating table in good faith, then Iran and the other countries won’t know who they are dealing with – the administration or Congress – and that if this deal were to be voted down, Iran wouldn’t return to the negotiation table.
Kerry attempted to challenge that the disapproval over the Iran deal is due to politics. “A lot of people were opposing this agreement before it was announced,” he said, adding that Iran will go back to enriching uranium as part of the nuclear development if Congress doesn’t agree to the deal.
“No country has anywhere anytime” inspections, Kerry concluded.
Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) hammered in on the issue of sanctions. Lew said in response that he thinks the sanctions had affect on Iran because the sanctions weren’t just from the U.S. – the sanctions were international. “If this deal is rejected, the other partners who helped us to impose those sanctions will not be of like mind,” Lew warned.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) then addressed the hearing saying that diplomacy with a friend is hard, and diplomacy with an adversary is hard – but “often necessary.” Kaine, like Boxer and Shaheen, appears to be a Democrat the administration can count on to support the Iran deal as Kaine said he believes this deal, after his review, produces a dramatically better position for the United States and allies for about 15 years in contrast to before the negotiation started.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) questioned Kerry recalling when Kerry was chair of the committee the U.S. had quick verification and inspection regarding a previous missile treaty. He pointed out that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the inspector, and the U.S. pays 25 percent of the IAEA; however, is not allowed to be part of the inspection as the agreement states no American can be one of the inspectors.
Kerry responds in the affirmative, that Isakson is correct. Isakson then said regarding the transparency of inspection Kerry must deal with that issue much deeper than he has been able to during this particular hearing.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) pointed out the Washington Post story, which Kerry tried to use as an argument” wasn’t in the paper, it was in a blog post by a left-wing activist.
Instead, Barrasso pointed to a New York Times article that said the deal is “coming under challenge from nuclear experts” who disapprove the 24 day window Iran has to give access to inspectors.
Barrasso challenged Kerry saying he disregarded the advice of America’s top military officials by lifting the arms embargo to get this deal. “This administration repeatedly ignores the advice of our military leaders,” when it comes to the issue of national security, Barrasso argued. He said President Obama – against military advice – withdrew troops, withdrew didn’t arm Syrian rebels, and then mocked that the administration is now coming to Congress and again ignoring the advice of military leaders.
On the advice of top U.S. military officials, Barrasso asked, “how can you ignore?”
“Well Senator, we didn’t,” Kerry argued.
Kerry is scheduled to appear in front of members of the House of Representatives Thursday afternoon. Congress has 90 days to review the deal. Thursday marked the fourth day into its review.