By Carlo Muñoz and Jeremy Herb - 09/24/13 10:09 PM EDT
He said he “firmly” believed the “diplomatic path must be tested.”
“If we can resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road to a different relationship,” Obama said.
Tehran's efforts to reach out to the United States, led by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, had surprised many U.S. diplomats and long time Mideast observers.
However, those efforts hit a roadblock on Tuesday, when Iran rejected an offer for a one-on-one meeting with Obama.
“The Iranians have an internal dynamic that they have to manage, and the relationship with the United States is clearly quite different than the relationship that Iran has with other Western nations,” according to a senior administration official.
That prompted several GOP lawmakers to question Iran's motives behind their recent diplomatic efforts.
Republicans question Iranian goodwill: A trio of GOP senators are skeptical on the motivations driving Iran's recent "charm offensive" toward Washington and its western allies.
“We support the willingness of the Obama Administration to test the credibility of the Iranian regime’s diplomatic overtures. However ... we need to approach the current diplomatic initiative with eyes wide open," Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said in a statement Tuesday.
"We are deeply skeptical about the real motivations behind Iran's charm offensive," they said.
That said, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services, said any hopes of an Iranian nuclear deal are "dead in the water."
“The Administration is wasting precious time trying to sign away our laws to the global community and unelected U.N. bureaucrats.”
But lawmakers' doubts on Iran extend far beyond the diplomatic impasse between Washington and Tehran on Iran's nuclear enrichment program.
"While Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability is our top concern, it is not our only concern," they said. Iran's continued sponsorship of Hezbollah, as well as its military support to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, are among lawmaker worries.
"We must see transparent, tangible, and verifiable steps by the Iranian regime to fulfill its international obligations" on all fronts, before the White House can begin rebuilding its ties with Iran, they said.
"The American people and Congress will not support anything less," the senators added.
F-15 rejected in South Korea: The South Korean fighter jet competition is back to square one after Seoul rejected the last remaining bid from Boeing.
South Korea said Tuesday that it was not accepting Boeing’s bid for 60 F-15 Stealth Eagle fighters over concerns that the fourth-generation fighter did not have sufficient stealth capability to counter North Korea’s threats.
“There is a consensus that South Korea needs the fifth-generation fighter jet to deter the growing threat posed by North Korea," Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said, according to Agence France-Presse.
South Korea, however, had already rejected two other bids from Lockheed Martin for the F-35 and EADS for the Eurofighter Typhoon, because they were over budget.
South Korea said Tuesday that it is restarting the competition from scratch, giving Lockheed another chance to pick up an additional international buyer.
Intel panel to hold open NSA hearing: The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold its first open hearing on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs on Thursday, the committee said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) announced the hearing on Tuesday, where Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander and Deputy Attorney General James Cole will testify.
The senators said the hearing was being held to consider legislative changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), particularly the sections dealing with the NSA’s phone surveillance programs.
A group of lawmakers critical of the NSA’s surveillance have been calling for changes to the FISA law, which Feinstein has said her committee will tackle this fall.
“I believe we are making some substantive changes. They may not be enough for some people, and I understand that,” Feinstein told reporters Tuesday.
“We have to have a system that’s able to pick up real problems, and we do to a great extent. I don’t want to hurt that system. Now there's things we can do, that’s what we’re trying to do, to tighten it up,” she said.
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