The top Republican in Congress reacted cautiously to the deal between the U.S., key western allies and Iran to freeze its nuclear program, expressing concern that it could result in a dismantling of the international sanctions that pushed Tehran to the negotiating table.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he has and will continue to view the interim agreement with “healthy skepticism and hard questions, not just of the Iranians, but of ourselves and our allies involved in the negotiations.”
“Iran has a history of obfuscation that demands verification of its activities and places the burden on the regime to prove it is upholding its obligations in good faith while a final deal is pursued,” he said in a statement issued Sunday.
The House shares the Obama administration's goals in reaching a final deal that halts Iran's enrichment of uranium and “irreversibly dismantles” the infrastructure of its nuclear program, Boehner said.
But he questioned whether launching into an interim, year-long preliminary agreement with Iran that does not irreversibly stop the enrichment program would cause some of the United States' international partners to rethink the international sanctions.
If Tehran does not comply with the demands of the interim deal, he said, some of these partners business deals may not be easily reversed, causing the strong sanctions regime to crumble.
Under that scenario, the U.S. could look back at the interim deal as a “remarkably clever Iranian move to dismantle the international sanctions regime while maintaining its infrastructure and material to pursue a break-out nuclear capability,” he said, adding that House members look forward to an Obama administration briefing on the interim deal and the next steps.
Congress, working with the Obama administration, has led the way in building the sanctions regime over the last few years, and several key lawmakers are reluctant to dial it back unless they see verifiable, irreversible steps from Iran to dismantle its nuclear program.
Those lawmakers have been threatening to pass a new round of sanctions as the negotiations became serious over the last few weeks in order to keep Iran's feet to the fire. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took steps to prevent any sanctions from moving through that body before Congress took its Thanksgiving break.
Lawmakers on Friday agreed to hold off for now but also to ready sanctions legislation they could quickly move through Congress if Iran demonstrates any lack of compliance on initial steps.
Other key House Republicans were far more critical of the interim deal than Boehner.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., the second most senior House Republican and a vocal advocate for Israel in Congress, said the agreement “dangerously recognizes” Iran's continued “right to enrich.”
“It is clear why the Iranians are claiming this deal recognizes their right to enrich,” he said. “The U.S. should not weaken existing United Nations Security Council demands that Iran fully suspend its nuclear activities, including enrichment.”
“Loosening sanctions and recognizing Iran's enrichment program is a mistake, and will not stop Iran's march toward nuclear capability,” he added.
Rep. Buck McKeon, a California Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said Iran hasn't given the world any reason to be anything but deeply skeptical of any agreement that leaves their capacity to build nuclear weapons intact.
“The president sees wisdom in placing trust, however limited, in a regime that has repeatedly violated international norms and put America's security at risk,” McKeon said in a statement.
“Apparently, American has not learned its lessons form 1994 when North Korea fooled the world,” he added. “I am skeptical that this agreement will end differently.”
McKeon was referring to an agreed framework between the U.S. and North Korea to freeze Pyongyang's nuclear program and potentially normalize relations with the U.S. and other allies. The agreement was troubled from the start and eventually broke down completely in 2003.