WASHINGTON – During the second in a series of hearings to examine the Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rejected the Obama administration’s false choice between supporting the nuclear deal or supporting war, which was part of the administration’s presentation to Congress last week both in a private meeting and a public hearing. The committee heard testimony today on the Iran deal from Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and former U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
“I was pretty frustrated…last week with the classified meeting…where… every time we would ask a question about the deal, Secretary Kerry would say, ‘Well, it’s either you support us or it’s war,’” said Corker. “I think everybody on this committee has worked hard to make sure that it’s a committee where people take their vote seriously…and not to be faced with a situation where you ask serious questions about the quality of the deal and basically are told [by the administration], ‘You have no vote. It’s either you support us or it’s war.’”
Asked about the likelihood of war with Iran, Nicholas Burns said, “I don’t think that war is an inevitable consequence of the deal falling apart.”
In a separate hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, referring to military advice provided to President Barack Obama, said “at no time” did the choice between a nuclear agreement and war with Iran “come up in our conversation nor did I make that comment.” Dempsey added, “I can tell you that we have a range of options and I always present them.”
Corker also pointed to a series of final concessions given to Iran in the agreement as a signal that the Obama administration is “not that serious” about enforcing Iran’s compliance with restrictions on their nuclear program. Those concessions include: (1) no explicit linkage between sanctions relief and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolving concerns about possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program; (2) a more than 24-day process for access to undeclared nuclear facilities instead of the previously promised “anytime, anywhere” inspections; and (3) the expiration of the conventional arms and ballistic missile embargoes, including the immediate end to the ballistic missile test ban.
“To me those qualitative pieces just at the end [of the negotiations] sent a signal to me and to others that we are really not that serious about carrying this out in a stringent way,” said Corker
Mark Dubowitz in his testimony detailed the major flaws in the agreement, which he argued put Iran on a “patient path to a nuclear weapon” and embolden the “most hardline” element of the Iranian regime, the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
“The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) provides Iran with a patient path to a nuclear weapon over the next decade and a half,” said Dubowitz in the hearing. “Tehran has to simply abide by the agreement to emerge as a threshold nuclear power with an industrial-size enrichment program; near-zero breakout time; an easier clandestine sneak-out pathway; an advanced long-range ballistic missile program, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); and hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief to immunize its economy against future economic snapback sanctions, increase its conventional military power, and support terrorism and other rogue regimes.”
Dubowitz also warned of language in the deal allowing Iran to stop compliance should specified economic sanctions be reimposed for nuclear violations or a connection to acts of terrorism.
“This ‘nuclear snapback’ provides Tehran with the ability to immunize itself against both political and economic pressure, block the enforcement of the agreement, and diminish the ability of the United States to apply any sanctions, including even non-nuclear sanctions, against the full range of Iran's illicit conduct,” said Dubowitz.
The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations in a letter to the United Nations Security Council earlier this month affirmed Iran would “reconsider” their “commitments” under the agreement if they are “impaired by continued application or the imposition of new sanctions with a nature and scope identical or similar to those that were in place prior to the implementation date, irrespective of whether such new sanctions are introduced on nuclear related or other grounds, unless the issues are remedied within a reasonably short time.”
Senator Corker argued Congress should not be deterred from reauthorizing the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires at the end of 2016, and enforcing those sanctions for Iranian involvement in terrorism.
“I think at a minimum we would absolutely extend at some point the sanctions we have in place and reserve the right to put in place the nuclear sanctions for terrorism or other activities,” Corker said.
For archived footage and full witness testimony from today’s hearing, click here. Tomorrow, Thursday, July 30, the committee will hold a hearing on sanctions relief in the Iran deal with testimony from Juan C. Zarate, chairman of the Financial Integrity Network, and Richard Nephew, program director at the Center on Global Energy Policy.