After multiple requests to the Obama administration, the House Foreign Affairs Committee was briefed behind closed doors for the first time on the Iran nuclear negotiations.
The deadline for a final agreement between the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic is July 20 — less than a month away.
“The Obama administration must better inform and engage Congress on these critical negotiations, particularly as only Congress can provide any permanent sanctions relief, should an agreement be reached,” committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said after the briefing, adding that it was “disappointing” the administration felt the need to keep it from open session.
“It is clear that many Members of the Committee are concerned about the direction of these negotiations, asking tough questions of the U.S. negotiators. Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is the Committee’s highest priority, as it has been for many years,” Royce said. “Members emphasized the need for the Administration to consult with Congress on any potential sanctions relief for Iran. Ranking Member Engel and I are currently circulating a letter with well over one hundred signatures calling on the Administration to do just that. The letter also states that any deal must entail coming to Congress for legislative action. The president shouldn’t rely only on waivers or other administrative action.”
“With the deadline for international negotiations surrounding Iran’s nuclear program approaching, Members were focused on the enormous challenge of monitoring and verifying any potential final agreement with Iran. These questions are all the more important given Iran’s history of deception, covert procurement, and construction of clandestine facilities. Indeed, during a recent committee hearing, all of the witnesses agreed that there is no monitoring and verification system that could ensure that Iran will not pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program.”
Royce added that several committee members stressed to administration officials delivering the briefing that “the onus is on Iran to prove that it has not engaged in a covert weapons program.”
“Iran has not been fully cooperating with the IAEA’s attempts to clarify evidence the international observer group has on the ‘potential military dimensions’ of Iran’s program. For several years, Iran has refused to provide explanations or information to the IAEA on past bomb efforts. I have called Iran’s willingness to come clean on its past weapons program an ‘acid test,'” he said.
“Members of the Committee also had grave concerns about the ‘duration’ of the ‘final step of the comprehensive solution.’ Under the agreement, after a relatively short period (to be determined by the negotiations) of good behavior, Iran would be freed from sanctions and any intrusive inspections measures — being converted from ‘nuclear pariah to nuclear partner,’ as one witness recently testified in front of the committee. As noted in the agreement, after the ‘duration’ of this ‘final step,’ the Iranian nuclear program is to be ‘treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT’ – in other words, just like Japan or Germany.”
Experts have told the committee, though, that such a status would easily allow Iran to produce material for nuclear weapons – “on a massive scale.”
“One witness called this a ‘giant get out of jail free card for Iran,’ as it could achieve this without any change in its government or its behavior towards its neighbors,” said Royce. “Its massive human rights abuses and terrorism throughout the world could continue.”