President Barack Obama’s controversial deal easing sanctions on Iran is causing new rifts among Senate Democrats in a caucus struggling to hold itself together in the wake of the Obamacare fiasco.
Democrats in the upper chamber who usually are unified in their views are reeling, following Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that a deal with the Iranians had been reached. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) seconded her colleague Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who criticized the administration’s deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told NPR’s Diane Rehm Monday that the Senate would look at strengthening sanctions against Iran when the upper chamber returned from Thanksgiving recess. “We will take a look at this to see if we need stronger sanctions,” Reid said, noting that the issue would go to the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations committees.
He told Rehm that the committee chairmen, Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), respectively, “will do what they are supposed to do. They will study this, they will hold hearings if necessary, and if we need work on this, if we need stronger sanctions I am sure we will do that. So I look forward to input from both the majority and minority when I get back there, and we will move forward appropriately.”
When asked about Israel’s alarm over the agreement, Reid responded: “I would be concerned too. I am concerned a thousand of miles away, you can imagine how he [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] must feel being a few miles away. So I understand.” In the meantime, The White House is fighting against Congress regarding placement of any additional sanctions on Iran.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said in a statement that the “interim deal has been and will continue to be met with healthy skepticism and hard questions, not just of the Iranians, but of ourselves and our allies involved in the negotiations.” Boehner cited concerns about Iran’s “history of obfuscation that demands verification of its activities.” Additionally, the speaker noted, “whether the negotiating partners will work equally hard to preserve the strong international sanctions regime until that goal is achieved.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) ripped apart the deal, saying the agreement was opening the door to weakening the sanctions that were already in place. “There are two things that are wrong here. One is we have now let the door opened to sanctions going away. We have said that we will ease up on sanctions, which have taken years and years of progress for them to build and to be able to apply the kind of pressure that it did,” he said.
Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE), the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services sub-committee of Emerging Threats and Capabilities, sent a statement to Breitbart News agreeing with House GOP leadership and other concerned Senate Democrats.
I share the strong skepticism of a number of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle that this uneven deal could be part of a broader Iranian strategy of stalling. While I support diplomatic efforts to avoid military conflict, I disagree with the president’s assertion today that the time for “tough talk” and strong sanctions has passed. It is precisely this hard line that brought the Iranians to the negotiating table in the first place, and U.S. pressure will continue to play a vital role in the process until any final agreement is achieved. To increase the likelihood of a final agreement, Congress should clearly spell out the consequences – namely, the resumption and expansion of sanctions – if Iran fails to live up its commitments.
In an email statement to Breitbart News, Gillibrand said, “I am concerned that this deal begins the dismantling of the sanctions regime we have worked so hard to develop in return for a temporary slowdown by the Iranians. I plan to work with my colleagues when we are back in session on what’s shown to work so far–putting economic pressure on Iran.”
Senator Menendez (D-NJ) was also disappointed with the deal, telling The Hill in a statement, “In my view, this agreement did not proportionately reduce Iran’s nuclear program for the relief it is receiving. Given Iran’s history of duplicity, it will demand ongoing, on the ground verification.” He added, “Until Iran has verifiably terminated its illicit nuclear program, we should vigorously enforce existing sanctions.”
Other Democrats, however, are supportive of the deal and went so far as to criticize their own colleagues for coming out against it. In an e-mail statement, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said she was “deeply disappointed by the negative reactions” by these members.
The comprehensive sanctions put in place by Congress and the Obama Administration helped lay the groundwork for this interim agreement, which essentially freezes Iran’s nuclear weapons program in place in exchange for limited sanctions relief–relief that could and should immediately be withdrawn if Iran fails to live up to its end of the bargain.
I am deeply disappointed by the negative reactions we have been hearing from some of my colleagues to the preliminary agreement. No one should underestimate the enormity of this breakthrough, which provides for daily inspections at Iranian nuclear facilities.
The Administration has left every option on the table should this agreement falter, but we should work as hard as possible across party lines to support a diplomatic solution.
It appears the divide among Democrats goes as far as east coast and west coast members. Unlike her New York and New Jersey colleagues, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, agrees with Boxer. In a statement, Feinstein said:
I support the agreement reached today between the P5+1 countries and Iran, which I believe is a significant step toward solving one of the most difficult security challenges facing the world today.
The six-month agreement puts in place strict controls on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran must halt uranium enrichment above 5%, neutralize its stockpile of near-20% uranium (by either reducing to 3.5% or converting to uranium oxide), halt the installation of any additional centrifuges of any type, freeze the size of its 3.5% stockpile at current levels (converting any newly enriched 3.5% to uranium oxide), halt production and testing of fuel for the Arak heavy-water reactor, halt installation of any components for the reactor, not transfer fuel or heavy water to the site, share the reactor’s technical design with P5+1 countries and dramatically increase international inspections of all nuclear sites.
In return, the sanctions relief for Iran is limited, estimated not to exceed $7 billion, which leaves more than $100 billion frozen.
If Iran violates this agreement, it ends and we will know diplomacy is no longer an option. But if the terms are upheld, we will know that Iran is serious about reaching a final agreement.
By any standard, this agreement is a giant step forward and should not be undermined by additional sanctions at this time.
Secretary Kerry defended the deal on Sunday telling CNN‘s State of The Union, “Verification is the key,” adding that the United States enters into more negotiations with Iran “with eyes absolutely wide open. We have no illusions.”
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), a senior member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, released a brief statement only saying, “It is a choice between a pause or imminent war. I choose a verifiable pause.”
Former U.N. Ambassador for the George W. Bush administration John Bolton called the deal an “abject surrender by the United States.” Writing in the Weekly Standard, Bolton stated:
Iran will not suddenly, Ahmadinejad-style, openly defy Washington or Jerusalem and trumpet cheating and violations. Instead, Tehran will go to extraordinary lengths to conceal its activities, working for example in new or unknown facilities and with North Korea, or shaving its compliance around the edges. The more time that passes, the harder it will be for Israel to deliver a blow that substantially retards the Iranian program.