Before the ink dried on a very preliminary agreement, President Obama began pitching the Iran Nuclear Deal to a very skeptical Congress. Obama promptly began calling congressional leaders of both parties, touting the terms of a deal that would severely limit Iranian nuclear weaponry ambitions, while lifting crippling sanctions. All cabinet members from Vice President Biden to National Security Advisor Susan Rice were working through the various channels of Congressional contacts with talking points and emphasis of the positive attributes of the pending deal. They face an uphill battle with not just Republican representatives but Democrats alike.
As the Iranian delegation was leaving the site of the deliberations, chief negotiator and Iran foreign minister Javad Zarif was back peddling on many of the points Obama was making from a Rose Garden press conference. Calling the American claims of closed reactors and escrowed enriched Uranium misleading, Zarif denied that any Iranian facilities would be closed and likewise that enrichment would continue at current levels. Obama administration officials dismissed this as semantics aimed at placating the hardline base in Iran. Congressional members mindful of Iran’s history of deceit and resistance to oversight, were not as quick to dismiss Zarif’s comments.
Despite Obama’s best sales pitch, demand for ultimate Congressional approval for any deal that would remove sanctions is bipartisan on the hill. Skepticism and negative sentiment over recent attempts by the Obama administration to sidestep Congress on immigration reform runs rampant and is not simply mitigated. Concern was exacerbated by the testimony of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year.
In an attempt to reassure Israeli concerns, Obama spoke to Netanyahu for over an hour while aboard Air Force One Thursday. In a subsequent press conference, Netanyahu again condemned the Iran Pact saying that it was a threat to not only Israel but Middle Eastern peace in general. In response to an Iranian military official’s comment that erasing Israel off the map was non-negotiable, Netanyahu responded that “the survival of Israel is non-negotiable”. He demands the inclusion of verbiage in the agreement that requires Iran to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.
State Department officials rejected this idea as unacceptable due to the complexity of merely negotiating the nuclear and sanction portion of the deal. Administration officials sought to assuage concern by declaring that any agreement would have to protect Israel’s security. There is justifiable concern that the eventual ability of Iran to enrich enough uranium to create a nuclear bomb, would only create a bombs race among other middle eastern powerhouses like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Furthermore, Iranian sponsorship of terror in Yemen and Jordan cast a shadow on the veracity of any terms they agree to.
There is no doubt that economic sanctions combined with plunging oil prices have crippled the economy of Iran. Minister Zarif was given a hero’s welcome upon return to his country and Iranians danced in the street in celebration. Festivities are perhaps premature in that Iranian President Rouhani faces equal opposition at home. No binding agreement is expected before the June 30, final deadline.
In spite of congressional skepticism and mounting public pressure, President Obama is hopeful in his attempt to pitch this historic multi-national Iran nuclear deal. The Obama administration is positive that this agreement would deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East for years to come.
By Chris Marion
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