- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—BRADENTON — Just before House hearings on the Iran nuclear agreement commence on Tuesday, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, would not say whether they are against the current version of the deal. But they expressed serious doubts over support for it in the House.

“We wait until the process to confer with committee members, but clearly I’ve been raising my concerns over the last few months as we’ve gone farther and farther from the interim agreement, and farther and farther away from the letter that 367 members of the House have signed,” said Royce, R-Calif., in an interview Monday with the Bradenton Herald editorial board.

“We’ve got friends in the Middle East, especially Israel and other countries, that are saying it’s a horrible deal,” added Buchanan, who hosted a weekend visit by Royce to the Bradenton-Sarasota area. “It kind of defies logic … if you sign an agreement, it’s only as good as the two parties involved.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew, and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Iran agreement at 10 a.m. Tuesday. That will kick off 60 days of Congressional review on the deal before a vote on whether to approve it, according to Royce.

Representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, China and Iran agreed to the deal, which allows Iran to research nuclear energy for purposes besides weaponization. To ensure Iran isn’t using the research for weapons purposes, a joint commission comprised of the other involved countries would have review, approval and inspection power over designs, developments, transfers and construction of certain nuclear equipment. If the commission wanted to conduct an inspection in a non-approved area in the country, Iran would have up to 24 days before such an inspection would occur.

Iran would also have to phase out some of its nuclear programs and equipment, such as uranium-enrichment related activities, to cut down on materials available for possible weapons purposes. Restrictions on arms sales would stay in place for another five years, and restrictions on intercontinental ballistic missile technology would stay for another eight.

In return for that cooperation, the U.S. would have to drop most sanctions against the country.

Royce, Buchanan and 365 other members of Congress sent a letter to Obama in March, before the official agreement was announced in July, listing four main concerns with any potential agreement with Iran:

- Iran did not cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s questions about its past bomb work.

- Inspectors of Iran facilities should have short-notice access to any suspect location.

- Sanctions should not be lifted up front, but gradually as Iran meets certain terms of the deal.

- Iran’s calling for an expansion of the country’s ballistic missile program when it has a history of fomenting instability in the Middle East.

Due to those concerns, Royce and Buchanan said it’s possible that Congress will issue its own resolution on the deal in the coming 60 days, which President Barack Obama has vowed to veto. Both House members said it’s impossible to say where most members of Congress stand on the issue right now, but getting the supermajority required to override a presidential veto is difficult in any situation.

Of particular concern, Royce said, is the item that would lift the arms embargo on Iran in five years and the embargo on ballistic missile technology in eight years.

“That was not part of the original deal,” Royce said.

Though neither would come out against the agreement, both seemed convinced that the Iran deal was not good for the U.S. or its allies.

“Our allies in the Middle East would say no deal is better than this deal,” Buchanan said, emphasizing that Israel especially said it was historically one of the worst agreements.

“There are a lot of ways to get around this,” Royce said.

Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055.

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