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Views on Iran Nuclear Accord Split Capitol Hill

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), shown talking last week to reporters, on Sunday outlined several concerns about a deal reached by Iran and six other governments to address the Middle Eastern nation's disputed nuclear activities (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images). U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), shown talking last week to reporters, on Sunday outlined several concerns about a deal reached by Iran and six other governments to address the Middle Eastern nation's disputed nuclear activities (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON -- Leaders of key U.S. congressional committees aired deep divides this week on whether an initial nuclear accord with Iran is a good deal for Washington and the rest of the world.

The interim agreement, unveiled in Geneva on Sunday, commits the Middle Eastern nation to enact a range of six-month curbs on its atomic activities. Those include restrictions on its production and stockpiling of the uranium it could most swiftly convert to nuclear-bomb fuel.

In exchange, Washington and five other governments are expected to grant Tehran a degree of relief from punitive economic measures targeting the ostensibly peaceful nuclear effort.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) welcomed the deal, arguing that Washington and five other governments gave minimal concessions on international sanctions now in place in exchange for at least temporarily halting the expansion of Iran's nuclear program.

The deal is designed to create room for the sides to negotiate a broader deal addressing deep concerns over the Persian Gulf power's potential to quickly develop a nuclear-weapons capacity.

"A freeze and a partial roll-back of Iran's nuclear energy activities is a bigger plus for us and the world than the release of $7 billion to Iran from its own assets, particularly since twice that amount of Iran's oil revenue will be added to Iran's frozen asset pile during that six-month period," Levin said in a press release.

Senator John McCain (Ariz.), a senior Republican on Levin's panel, released numerous criticisms of the multilateral plan. In particular, he stressed the possibility that a yet-to-be-negotiated follow-up agreement could include an "expiration date."

If a potential long-term accord includes a sunset date, "Iran would be allowed to retain a large-scale domestic enrichment program" after the deal lapses, McCain stated. "In other words, what is envisioned does not appear to be a final settlement that could eliminate fully Iran's capability to develop nuclear weapons."

The split reflected differences that in many cases -- but not uniformly -- are dividing Republicans from Democrats on the matter. Here is a round-up of comments that some key lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have made since the accord became final in Geneva early on Sunday:

-- House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.): "Apparently, America has not learned its lesson from 1994 when North Korea fooled the world. I am skeptical that this agreement will end differently."

-- House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.): "This preliminary step should serve as a bridge to a long-term deal ... [but] far more work remains to be done."

-- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.): "This agreement did not proportionately reduce Iran's nuclear program for the relief it is receiving."

-- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.): "I think it’s now time for Congress to weigh in because I think people are very concerned that the interim deal becomes the norm."

-- House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.): "We are the ones doing the dismantling -- relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years."

-- House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.): "While I am concerned that this interim agreement does not require Iran to completely halt its enrichment efforts or dismantle its centrifuges, I hope that over the next six months, Iran takes the necessary steps to finally end its quest for a nuclear weapons capability."

-- Senate intelligence committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.): "This agreement is a giant step forward and should not be undermined by additional sanctions at this time."

-- Senate intelligence committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.): "We’ve got all the leverage in the negotiation and we’ve let them out of the trap."

-- House intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.): "We've given them just enough breathing room, the one thing that brought them to the table. ... We may have just encouraged more violence in the future than we have stopped."

-- House intelligence committee member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.): "I have little trust in the Iranian regime. ... At the same time, if Iran's new president can make good on his stated intention, the next six months could mark a turning point in our relations with Iran of historic significance."

As of press time, no statement on the accord had been issued by House intelligence committee Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) or Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

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