Several Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee joined Republicans in expressing skepticism about the administration’s willingness to ease sanctions on Iran without requiring Tehran to cease all uranium activities while negotiations on a more permanent agreement take place.
While Mr. Engel praised Mr. Kerry’s “incredible personal efforts” to engage Tehran diplomatically, he slammed the initial agreement, saying that, “at a minimum, it should have required Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, as demanded by six separate U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
“I don’t think it’s asking too much of Iran to say that at least while we’re talking, you stop enriching,” he said. “For the six-month period while we’re talking, Iran, in my estimation, should not be enriching.”
The committee’s GOP chairman, Rep. Edward R. Royce of California, joined his Democratic colleague, warning that the U.S. “may have bargained away our fundamental position.”
“That fundamental agreement is that Iran should not be enriching and reprocessing,” Mr. Royce said. “And we may bargain that away for a false confidence that we can effectively block Iran’s misuse of these key nuclear bomb-making technologies.”
Mr. Kerry told lawmakers the deal reached by the U.S., Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France with Iran last month in Geneva was only “preliminary” and that once it is implemented, the agreement effectively “halts the progress of Iran’s nuclear program” and “rolls it back in certain places for the first time in nearly 10 years.”
“The national security of the United States is stronger under this first-step agreement than it was before,” Mr. Kerry argued. “Israel’s national security is stronger … and the Gulf and Middle East interests are more secure.”
But lawmakers expressed concern that, while Iran may have agreed to curtail its nuclear program and open it to scrutiny from international observers, the initial deal reached in Geneva allows the Islamic republic to enrich uranium to a level of 5 percent.
That’s well below the level needed for bombs, but still too high for many in the Middle East.
Israeli leaders, who have long argued that Iran is secretly seeking to obtain a nuclear bomb, have condemned the deal.
While recent days have suggested there may not be enough political momentum on Capitol Hill to pass such legislation, Mr. Kerry set out Tuesday to allay concerns over the enrichment issue.
“Under this agreement, Iran will have to neutralize, end its entire stockpile of 20 percent uranium, which you all know is a short step away from weapons-grade uranium,” he told the hearing.