By Bernie Becker - 11/24/13 02:31 PM EST
Top lawmakers on both side of the aisle on Sunday voiced skepticism about the newly struck agreement with Iran, and vowed to keep up the pressure with sanctions.
Senior members in both chambers said that, at first glance, Iran got the better end of the deal with western powers, China and Russia – effectively exchanging looser sanctions for very little progress in impeding Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the No. 3 Democrat in the chamber, called the deal disproportionately good for Iran, and that it was only strong sanctions that gave the United States and its allies any leverage over Tehran.
“This disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December,” Schumer said in a Sunday statement.
In fact, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office pointed out Sunday that the Virginia Republican and Schumer – rarely allies on any issue – had sounded similar concerns about the deal, and the impact sanctions have had on Iran.
President Obama and top members of his administration, like Secretary of State John Kerry, have stressed that the pressure has been successful – but that pressing ahead with further sanctions could “derail” the new deal.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are among the lawmakers to say they’d be open to putting sanctions in place for six months down the line.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had vowed last week to move ahead with sanctions legislation, but has yet to comment on the agreement finalized this weekend in Geneva.
Menendez added Sunday that he expected any Senate deal on sanctions to allow the U.S. to immediately restart sanctions if Iran fails to live up to its part of the deal.
“Given Iran's history of duplicity, it will demand ongoing, on-the-ground verification,” Menendez said. “Until Iran has verifiably terminated its illicit nuclear program, we should vigorously enforce existing sanctions.”
Under the deal announced Sunday, the U.S. and its allies will loosen temporarily loosen sanctions on Iran’s sale of crude oil, its automotive sector and other parts of the economy.
Iran, on the other hand, agreed to tougher outside inspections and to cap its nuclear stockpile. Tehran will also halt work at a heavy water reactor at its Arak site and suspend the installation of new centrifuges. The two sides disagree on whether the agreement allows Iran to enrich its uranium, and whether it takes any military action against the country off the table.
The initial agreement does not cover the construction of new centrifuges or the reversal of progress Iran has made in its nuclear program.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and McCarthy took a more measured approach on Sunday.
“The interim deal has been and will continue to be met with healthy skepticism and hard questions, not just of the Iranians, but of ourselves and our allies involved in the negotiations,” Boehner said in a Sunday statement.
If the U.S. doesn’t keep the pressure up, Boehner said, “we will look back on the interim deal as a remarkably clever Iranian move to dismantle the international sanctions regime while maintaining its infrastructure and material to pursue a break-out nuclear capability.”
Some Democrats – like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (Mich.) – were also far more positive about the deal than other top officials in the party.
“Last night's agreement is an essential step toward meeting our ultimate objective: to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“This announcement marks a necessary bridge to further negotiations on a lasting, long-term, and comprehensive agreement. Through diplomacy, engagement, and unity among our allies, we must continue acting to end Iran's nuclear weapons program once and for all.”
Peter Schroeder contributed.