US President Barack Obama’s administration and the US Congress clashed on Tuesday over Washington’s historic nuclear deal with Tehran, exposing rifts over a US pledge to refrain from imposing new sanctions on Iran over the next six months in exchange for concessions on enriching uranium.
The disagreement could have broad consequences for US diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
In his first congressional testimony since last month’s agreement, US Secretary of State John Kerry defended the diplomatic efforts as having halted and rolled back central elements of Iran’s nuclear program for the first time. He pleaded with Democrats and Republicans alike not to scuttle the chances of a peaceful resolution to a crisis that has regularly featured US and Israeli threats of potential military action.
“Let me be very clear: This is a very delicate diplomatic moment and we have a chance to address peacefully one of the most pressing national security concerns that the world faces today,” Kerry told the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“We’re at a crossroads. We’re at one of those really hinge points in history. One path could lead to an enduring resolution in the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The other path could lead to continued hostility and potentially to conflict,” he added.
Kerry’s appearance came as lawmakers threatened to undermine the six-month interim pact, which gives Iran US$7 billion in sanctions relief over the next half-year in exchange for the Islamic Republic neutralizing its higher-enriched uranium stockpiles, not adding any new centrifuges and ceasing work at a heavy water reactor that could produce weapons-grade plutonium.
US senators Bob Menende and Mark Kirk are close to completing a bill that would require the Obama administration to certify Iran’s adherence to the pact every 30 days, legislative aides said.
Without that certification, the draft bill would re-impose all sanctions and introduce new restrictions on Iran’s engineering, mining and construction industries. It also calls for a global boycott of Iranian oil by 2015 if Tehran fails to live up to the agreement. Foreign firms and banks violating the bans would be barred from doing business in the US
Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that any new package of commercial restrictions would kill the deal.
“If Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States,” Zarif told Time magazine.