President Obama secured quick United Nations approval Monday for his administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, sparking bipartisan criticism that he favored the international blessing more than the will of Congress, while hard-liners in Tehran vowed to “never accept” the accord.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed the agreement, reached by negotiators in Vienna a week ago, to limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions. European Union foreign ministers also approved the deal Monday.
But lawmakers in both parties swiftly criticized the president for obtaining U.N. authorization before Congress can complete a mandated 60-day review of the deal. The administration sent the text of the accord to Congress on Sunday, less than 24 hours before the U.N. vote.
Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Obama “ignored the concerns of the American people and senior members of his own party” by allowing the U.N. to act first on the agreement. He said the action violated the spirit of the law establishing a 60-day review by Congress.
“This is a bad start for a bad deal,” Mr. Boehner said. “The American people expect their representatives to review this potential agreement and stop Iran’s push for a nuclear weapon, and we will continue our critical work to do just that.”
House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Edward R. Royce, California Republican, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the panel, said they were “disappointed” that the U.N. Security Council acted before Congress.
“We are also greatly concerned that the resolution lifts restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missiles in eight years and conventional arms in five years,” they said in a joint statement.
In Iran, the Revolutionary Guards and other hard-liners vowed that they won’t stand for international inspections of the country’s military sites. Top Guards commander Mohammed Ali Jafari denounced the agreement for interfering with Iran’s military operations and crossing “red lines” set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“We will never accept it,” he was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.
Iranian hard-liners are worried that U.N. inspectors may gain some access to sensitive military sites under the resolution, which becomes international law.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said the deal would make the world “safer and more secure.” But Israeli U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor told reporters immediately after the vote that the Security Council had “awarded a great prize to the most dangerous country in the world,” calling it “a very sad day” not only for Israel but the entire world.
In a joint letter, 60 national security figures and former administration officials of both parties, including former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Defense Secretary William Perry, came out in support of the agreement. They said the deal “stands as a landmark agreement in deterring the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
“If properly implemented, this comprehensive and rigorously negotiated agreement can be an effective instrument in arresting Iran’s nuclear program and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons in the volatile and vitally important region of the Middle East,” they wrote to Mr. Obama.
Opponents of the agreement in the Middle East and in Congress say the agreement will result in more extremist violence in the region, with Iran receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from sanctions. Israel, Saudi Arabia and others are concerned that Tehran will use some of that cash to support more terrorist acts.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, on a tour of Israel Monday, offered personal assurances that the U.S. will help the Israelis counter Iranian support for the militant group Hezbollah. He called it one example of how the U.S. can support the Jewish state in the aftermath of the nuclear deal.
“Hezbollah is sponsored of course by Iran, which is why the United States will continue to help Israel counter Iranian malign influence in the region,” Mr. Carter told reporters after receiving an Israeli security briefing at a lookout near the border with Lebanon.
Mr. Carter promised that the Obama administration would not waver from an “ironclad commitment” to ensuring Israel’s military edge in the region. He said that next year, Israel will become the first U.S. ally to fly the new U.S. F-35 warplane.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon praised Mr. Carter’s track record of support for Israel, while acknowledging the split over the Iran deal.
“We greatly disagree when it comes to the agreement with Iran and fear for the future in the aftermath of its signing,” Mr. Ya’alon said. “Yet we discuss this issue in a fully open manner, alongside many other issues of great importance.”
As Congress officially began its work of reviewing the Iran agreement, the Anti-Defamation League urged lawmakers to vote against it if they can’t get answers to “tough questions,” such as whether the agreement’s enforcement mechanisms will “ensure Iranian compliance.” Without mentioning Mr. Obama, they also torpedoed the president’s argument that the agreement is the only way to avoid another war in the Middle East.
“The serious stakes of the issue merit a debate that rejects the false choice between accepting this agreement and advocating for war,” ADL National Chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher and National Director Abraham H. Foxman wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “This message ill-serves the goal of ensuring that an agreement with Iran will make America and its allies safer.”
The administration’s rapid push for U.N. approval clearly rankled lawmakers who were already suspicious of the agreement, especially among the GOP.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said Mr. Obama’s decision to go to the U.N. first “is an affront to the American people.” “The administration is more concerned about jamming this deal through than allowing the scrutiny it deserves,” Mr. Cornyn said in a statement. “Congress will carefully examine this agreement and, regardless of what the U.N. believes, vote it down if it jeopardizes American security and paves the way for a nuclear-armed Iran.”
In a speech in Wisconsin Monday, Republican Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. said the Iran agreement will endanger the U.S. and its allies.
“By allowing key restraints on Iran’s nuclear program to expire and lifting military arms and ballistic missile restrictions, President Obama has placed a target on the backs of all Americans,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. “Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and giving them billions of dollars in sanctions relief will help them fund their proxy wars on America and our allies. It’s imperative we prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and terror financing capabilities, and I, along with many of my colleagues in Congress, are committed to reversing this egregious deal brokered by the Obama administration.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he “strenuously” disagreed with the claim that the administration’s push at the U.N. violates its agreement with Congress. He noted there is an “extraordinary provision” in the Security Council resolution to ensure that it doesn’t go into effect for another 90 days.
“That is specifically to allow Congress ample time to conduct their review of the agreement,” Mr. Earnest said. “And that does show on the part of the international community significant deference to the privileges of individual members of Congress.”
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who negotiated the deal, said lawmakers’ criticism about giving deference to the U.N. is “without merit,” adding that America’s negotiating partners such as Great Britain and China deserved to have their sovereignty “honored” by the U.S.
“These countries, frankly, don’t feel terrific, when our Congress is setting the rules without consulting them, without talking to them, when they’re the parties at the negotiating table,” Mr. Kerry said on MSNBC. “So we worked out a compromise. We honored their sovereignty and participation in this multilateral effort.”
Intensifying its lobbying effort with Congress, the White House is Mr. Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and a top intelligence agency official to hold classified briefings with House and Senate lawmakers on Wednesday. The Cabinet secretaries will also testify Thursday at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and next Tuesday to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs panel.
Ms. Power said the deal won’t change the administration’s concern for Iran’s support of terrorism. Iranian Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo rejected her accusations as baseless and ironic. ”The country that invaded two countries in our region and created favorable grounds for the growth of terrorism and extremism is not well placed to raise such accusations against my country,” he told the Security Council.
Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, dismissed critics’ concerns and called the resolution an “unprecedented achievement in Iran’s history.” The deal must be approved by Iran’s National Security Council and later by Ayatollah Khamenei.
Some countries are already keen to do business with the oil exporter. Germany and Iran moved tentatively on Monday toward reviving trade, anticipating the lifting of the sanctions.
Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, making the first top-level German government visit to Tehran in 13 years, indicated that a ministerial-level meeting of a long-dormant German-Iran economic commission would take place early next year in Tehran.
For decades, Germany was Iran’s biggest trading partner in Europe. German exports there hit 4.4 billion euros in 2005 but then slumped to 1.8 billion by 2013 as the West tightened the sanctions.
Also on Monday, the lawyer of a Washington Post journalist detained in Iran said the next hearing in his espionage trial likely will be the last, though she’s still uncertain when that will be.
Bureau chief Jason Rezaian, 39, has been held for almost a year and has faced three other closed-door hearings in his trial in a Revolutionary Court in Tehran, even as Iran recently struck a deal in Vienna with world powers over its contested nuclear program. He faces charges that include espionage and distributing propaganda against the Islamic Republic. U.S. officials, The Post and rights groups have criticized his trial and pressed for his release.
Mr. Rezaian’s defense lawyer, Leila Ahsan, said the court has informed her the next session “almost certainly” will be the last one. Mr. Rezaian is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who was born and spent most of his life in the United States. Iran does not recognize other nationalities for its citizens.
Ms. Power told the Security Council that the agreement with Iran “will in no way diminish the United States’ outrage over the unjust detention” of Mr. Rezaian, missionary Saeed Abedini and former Marine Amir Hekmati. She also called on the Iranians to help locate Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since 2007.
“No family should be forced to endure the anguish that the Abedini, Hekmati, Rezaian and Levinson families feel, and we will not rest until they are home where they belong,” she said.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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