White House press secretary Josh Earnest insisted today that it will be difficult for congressional Republicans to sell opposition to an Iran deal to the American people — neglecting to mention that much of the opposition comes from Democrats.
He also pushed back against critics who say keeping existing sanctions will put more pressure on Iran and defined what sanctions mean in the first place.
“The sanctions regime was not put in place to punish Iran,” Earnest told reporters today.
“There would obviously be ample reason to do that. And again, whether that’s because they are — have unjustly detained some American citizens or because they menace Israel or because they support terrorism or because they’re engaged in all sorts of destabilizing activities all the globe, there’re a whole lot of reasons to be very concerned about Iran’s behavior and about the impact that they have on U.S. national security,” he said. “But the fact is that there are set of — of sanctions that have been put in place against Iran, specifically because of their nuclear program, and the goal of that was to try to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
“…And the idea was simply this, that Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region or their support for terrorism or their menacing of Israel is a whole lot more dangerous if they have a nuclear weapon and that preventing them from obtaining a nuclear weapon is an important step in trying to prevent the worst kind of behavior from Iran, but it certainly isn’t going to prevent all of their bad behavior.”
Earnest insisted that the administration will “welcome the scrutiny and even skepticism of everybody across the country and across the world as they consider this agreement.”
“But we continue to be confident that upon looking at the details once they have been released, that we will be able to make a strong case about how the president hasn’t just achieved his goal, but how the international community has achieved the important goal preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and verifying their compliance with that agreement,” he continued.
“And when it comes to a tough sell, I think the tough sell is going to be on the part of Republicans if they try to tank the deal. It’s going to be a tough sell to say that the United States should back away from an international agreement… It’s going to be a tough sell to suggest that we should undermine the international sanctions that have been so effectively put in place thus far, and it’s going to be a tough sell to say you know what, we should just foreclose the diplomatic option and only consider the military option before us,” Earnest said.
“So I think we’re going to have a lot of confidence in the ability that we have to advocate for this agreement, and I think it’s going to be a pretty tough sell on the part of Republicans to suggest that it’s something that we should walk away from.”
Earnest said National Security Advisor Susan Rice has been updating President Obama “a couple times a day” on the talks.
“Ultimately, in order to complete this agreement, it’s going to require Iran to make some tough decisions and to sign off on some significant commitments… And you know, they have a rather opaque process for making these kinds of decisions, so — but that’s why it’s hard to put a — a specific probability. But to answer the first part of your question, I do think it’s fair for you to say that over the last four, five, or six days, that progress, additional progress has been made.
The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), cautioned this morning on CNN that “the devil is in the details.”
“We still don’t know exactly about the inspection regimes. That’s going to be a very important part for many members of Congress. We’ve heard about arms embargo issues. We need to know how that has been resolved. The sanctions relief is also a matter of incredible importance, what research Iran will be permitted to do. So there’s a lot of questions I think members of Congress want to know the details before they decide whether they can support or not this agreement,” Cardin said.
“We need, first, to be able to get through the documents. We need to have our briefings, both open and closed briefings. And then we need to have some discussions among ourselves. We want to have as much open process as possible. We want the American people to understand this. Our bottom line is Iran needs to be prevented from becoming a nuclear weapons state. We don’t trust them, so we have to be able to inspect and see if they’re cheating and we have to have time to take action to prevent them from becoming a nuclear weapon state if they do not comply with the agreement… A bad deal is worse than no deal at all. That’s the standards we’ll be using.”
“I’m going to judge it when I have all of the elements of it, but, obviously, I think we should have started it a different way. I’ll judge the agreement based upon what it is,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Sunday on ABC. “But we have to make very clear that there is a deterrence in the longer term because, if not, in 12, 13 years, we will be exactly back to where we are today, except that Iran will have $100 billion to $150 billion in its pocket and promoting its terrorism throughout the Middle East.”