US congressional leaders push for involvement in nuke deal

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Lawmakers from both parties skeptical of tentative deal on Iran’s nuclear program.

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WASHINGTON — Senate and House leaders asked the Obama administration to allow Congress to be involved in any deal with Iran following the announcement of a political framework on the republic’s nuclear program.

“American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure any final deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker called on the negotiators to take it slow to ensure that a deal, if reached, is “enforceable,” and will “hold Iran accountable.”

The Committee will vote April 14 on Corker’s draft bill that would require a congressional review of a nuclear deal if one is reached by June 30.

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, also agreed that the tentative deal will require “close scrutiny.”

“Congress must fulfill its oversight responsibilities,” Menendez said. “If diplomats can negotiate for two-years on this issue, then certainly Congress is entitled to a review period of an agreement that will fundamentally alter our relationship with Iran and the sanctions imposed by Congress.”

Influential Republican Sen. John McCain, Chairman of the Armed Service Committee, voiced his concerns about the framework deal and also urged congressional involvement to approve any deal.

It appears that Iran would not be required to ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country, and would be allowed to conduct research on advanced centrifuge technologies as well as not being be required to close its hardened military nuclear facilities, McCain said.

He pointed out that the current framework contained a sunset of 10 – 15 years, after which Iran will be allowed to maintain and possibly expand an industrial-sized enrichment program.

“These and other issues must be addressed for any agreement to be a good agreement,” McCain said. “That is why the Congress must be actively involved in reviewing and ultimately approving a nuclear agreement with Iran.”

Ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, said in a statement that “the details for a final implementation agreement may be within sight.”

“I encourage negotiators to be as transparent as possible: the more people know about this framework, the more confidence they’ll have that a comprehensive and sustainable agreement can be reached to make our nation and the region safer and more secure,” he said.

He also asked Congress to allow talks to continue and try not to derail the next steps in the negotiations.

The message was no different on the House side.

“In the weeks ahead, Republicans and Democrats in Congress will continue to press this administration on the details of these parameters and the tough questions that remain unanswered,” said House Speaker John Boehner.

The speaker said that his immediate concern about the deal was that the administration signaling it would provide near-term sanctions relief to Iran.

“It would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region,” he added.

Republican Rep. Ed Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration owed Congress the details on many key questions from Thursday’s agreement.

“Just what is the research and development that Iran will be permitted on its advanced centrifuges, key to advancing its nuclear program?  What violations would constitute “significant nonperformance?” Will there be inspections anytime, anywhere?,” he asked.

He insisted that Congress will have its say on any final agreement.

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