- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2015

Fallout from the Obama administration’s preliminary nuclear deal with Iran stretched from Capitol Hill to Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, with lawmakers vowing to push ahead with legislation that would give them, not the president, the final say on whether the agreement crosses the finish line.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up his all-out assault on the deal, saying the U.S.-led effort to lighten economic sanctions on Iran will allow Tehran to bolster its “terror machine” and wreak even more havoc across an already-unstable region.

White House officials, including Mr. Obama himself, have worked relentlessly over the past few days to push back against criticism and to dissuade Congress from pursuing legislation that would give the House and Senate the authority to essentially kill the deal.

That effort continued Sunday, with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — a key figure, alongside Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in the U.S. negotiating team in Switzerland last week — stressing that the deal dramatically limits Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and otherwise move closer to building nuclear bombs. He denied that the U.S. and its international partners — Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — gave up too much in negotiations and specifically countered the claim by Mr. Netanyahu and others that Iran’s nuclear program can continue to move forward.

But the administration’s assurances, to some extent, are falling on deaf ears in Washington and in Israel.



Mr. Netanyahu stopped short of explicitly calling on Congress to stop the deal in its tracks, but he did make clear that, in his opinion, the agreement in its current form endangers Israel and guarantees that Iran will remain a destructive force in the Middle East.

“I think this is a bad deal. It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure. It lifts the sanctions on them fairly quickly and enables them to get billions of dollars into their coffers. They’re not going to use it for schools or hospitals or roads,” Mr. Netanyahu said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “They’re going to use it to pump up their terror machine worldwide and their military machine that is busy conquering the Middle East now.”

The deal, tightly focused on Iran’s nuclear activities and Tehran’s desire to escape crippling economic sanctions, does not require Iran to stop its support of terrorism, a key flaw in the agreement, according to Mr. Netanyahu and others. The U.S. still officially designates Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Still, supporters say the deal does make great strides in stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In exchange for relief from some economic sanctions, Iran will limit its uranium enrichment, will reduce the number of operating centrifuges from about 19,000 to about 5,000 and will take other steps. The framework agreed to last week still must be finalized, with the deadline for a complete deal looming in June.

Officials concede that Iran’s support for terrorism still must be addressed. But they say it will be easier for the U.S. and its allies to confront that challenge if they’re assured Tehran can’t get a nuclear weapon.

“Would we prefer to be addressing those [concerns] with Iran having a nuclear bomb, or even the threat of having a nuclear bomb, versus a situation in which we have essentially complete confidence they are complying, or face the consequences of noncompliance?” Mr. Moniz, who taught nuclear physics at MIT, said during an appearance on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

Papal support

The U.S. and its partners did pick up one influential ally in the effort to sell the deal: Addressing the Easter throngs at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis said he hoped the interim blueprint could lead to a final deal this summer.

“In hope we entrust to the merciful Lord the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne, that it may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world,” the pope told the throngs of followers gathered in the rain.

And in Tehran, the Iranian stock market hit its highest level in 18 months on rising hopes that the sanctions will be eased after a second straight day of trading gains after the deal was announced last Thursday.

While international negotiations have been at the forefront in recent weeks, the White House now must turn its attention to finding common ground with a Congress that seems increasingly hostile to the nuclear deal.

Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, said Sunday that he will press ahead with legislation that would require the House and Senate to sign off on the deal.

Only after congressional approval could the deal be finalized. The bill would prevent the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran for 60 days while Congress reviews the agreement.

Mr. Corker said the Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the bill April 14. Mr. Obama has vowed to veto the measure, but Mr. Corker said the Senate is close to having the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto.

He said he’s confident at least 64 or 65 senators would vote in favor of the proposal if it reaches the Senate floor.

The legislation places a significant burden on Mr. Obama and forces him to convince skeptical lawmakers the deal is in the best interest of the U.S., Mr. Corker said.

“The president needs to sell this [deal] to the American people,” Mr. Corker said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think the American people want the United States Senate to go through [with] this deal. They understand this is one of the most important geopolitical agreements that will take place during this decade. This is an appropriate place for us to be. If the president feels like this is something that’s good for the nation, surely he can sell this to the United States Senate and the House.”

Other top lawmakers, however, say the deal is as good as can realistically be achieved right now. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN Sunday that the agreement does not threaten the survival of Israel and represents the best chance of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

She also took direct aim at Mr. Netanyahu, saying the Israeli leader should stop trying to torpedo the deal.

“I don’t think it’s helpful for Israel to come out and oppose this one opportunity” to slow Iran’s nuclear program, Mrs. Feinstein said. “This can backfire on him. I wish he would contain himself, because he has put out no real alternative.”

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