Vienna Nuke Talks: Congressional Reaction

November 25, 2014

            U.S. lawmakers issued wide-ranging reactions to news of the seven-month extension of nuclear talks with Iran. Several Republicans called for imposing additional sanctions on Iran and requiring Congressional approval of a final deal, but most stopped short of rejecting the extension outright. “I would rather the administration continue to negotiate than agree to a bad deal,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Democrats, however, generally took a softer stance on sanctions and expressed support for the continuation of diplomatic efforts. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) said additional sanctions would be a “slap in the face” to the negotiating process. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said "these talks are the only way to peacefully ensure Iran never obtains a nuclear program.” The following are statements released by U.S. lawmakers on the decision to extend negotiations.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
            “Since the beginning, I have been concerned about a series of rolling extensions becoming the norm and reducing our leverage. However, I would rather the administration continue to negotiate than agree to a bad deal that would only create more instability in the region and around the world.”
            “With so much riding on these talks for the security of our nation and that of the region, Congress must have the opportunity to weigh in before implementation of any final agreement and begin preparing alternatives, including tougher sanctions, should negotiations fail.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)
            “Today's announcement means that the Administration will continue to block sanctions and allow the terror-sponsoring Iranian regime to make $700 million a month—roughly $23 million per day—even as Iran advances its nuclear bomb-making program and sparks an arms race in the Middle East. Now more than ever, it’s critical that Congress enacts sanctions that give Iran’s mullahs no choice but to dismantle their illicit nuclear program and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency full and unfettered access to assure the international community’s security."
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and John McCain (R-AZ)
            "One of the most important issues facing our nation and the world at large is how to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. While we strongly support diplomatic efforts to achieve a lasting, verifiable agreement with Iran that permanently ends Iran's nuclear weapons program, we must avoid negotiating a deal that puts the security of the United States or our allies at risk and fails to address Iran's decades-long history of cheating and subterfuge.
            "It is clear to us that Iranian insistence on having an enrichment program is problematic, and we fear it could lead to a repeat of the mistakes we made with North Korea. Years ago, the international community allowed North Korea a small nuclear program which was to be controlled and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Unfortunately, the inspectors were thrown out and North Korea was able to develop and test nuclear weapons. We cannot repeat the same mistakes when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program.
            "A bad deal with Iran will start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East as Sunni Arab states will not allow Iran to hold a nuclear sword over their heads without responding in kind. In addition, a nuclear-capable Iran represents an existential threat to our strongest ally in the region, Israel, as well as to our own national security, given Iran's record of sharing military technology with terrorist organizations.
            "We have supported the economic sanctions, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, in addition to sanctions placed on Iran by the international community. These sanctions have had a negative impact on the Iranian economy and are one of the chief reasons the Iranians are now at the negotiating table. However, we believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval. Every Member of Congress should have the opportunity to review the final deal and vote on this major foreign policy decision.
            "If the P5+1 negotiates a good deal which successfully dismantles Iran's nuclear weapons program, it will receive an overwhelming vote in support. However, if it sets the stage for the creation of another North Korea, we will vote against it and expect Congress to reject it.
            "When it comes to the Iranian nuclear ambitions, we strongly believe the most prudent policy would be to verify, verify, verify....never trust."
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)
            “At this point, all an extension does is leave open the possibility this administration will make additional concessions to an Iranian regime that has not agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program.  Every day these negotiations go on is another day this administration fails to address Iran’s role as lead state sponsor of terrorism with an abysmal human rights record and no interest in a strong, stable Iraq.  Instead of giving Iran more flexibility, we should be holding this regime accountable for the threat it poses to the region and our allies.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA)
            “Better an extension than a bad agreement that at one point looked like it might be coming.  But if Iran hasn’t been able to make difficult choices over the past year, there is little reason to think that the Supreme Leader will see it differently over the next few months.
            “One thing that could change Tehran’s resistance to agreeing to a meaningful and effective agreement to keep it from developing a nuclear weapon is more economic pressure.  Since the beginning of these negotiations, the Administration aggressively opposed Congressional attempts to give our negotiators more leverage with added sanctions, to go into force should negotiations fail.  We’ll never know if that prospect would have made a difference over the past 12 months.  But we do know that talks haven’t succeeded without more pressure.
            “This seven month extension should be used to tighten the economic vice on Tehran – already suffering from falling energy prices - to force the concessions that Iran has been resisting.
            “Seven months of more talks tells me that the negotiators aren’t close to agreement.  Unfortunately, time is on Tehran’s side as it continues its research and development of centrifuges.
            “Congress now must hear from Administration officials as why this extension is justified.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
            “I commend the Administration's diplomatic efforts in pursuit of a comprehensive agreement with Iran to terminate its illicit nuclear program. The burden of proof to resolve questions about Iran's nuclear weapons program lies squarely with the Iranians. It is disappointing and worrying that after a year of serious talks with Iran that we do not have a deal, while Iran simultaneously stonewalls international weapons inspectors seeking access to suspicious sites in Iran."
            "The cycle of negotiations, followed by an extension, coupled with sanctions relief for Iran has not succeeded. I continue to believe that the two-track approach of diplomacy and economic pressure that brought Iran to the negotiating table is also the best path forward to achieve a breakthrough. I intend to work with my Senate colleagues in a bipartisan manner in the coming weeks to ensure that Iran comprehends that we will not ever permit it to become a threshold nuclear state.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
            “Sufficient progress has been made in the negotiations between the P5+1 powers and Iran to justify an extension. I support the decision to continue negotiations as these talks are the only way to peacefully ensure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon.
            “Our biting sanctions remain in place and Iran’s economy continues to be weakened. Since last November, Iran has lived up to its obligations under the interim agreement and its nuclear program has not only been frozen, it has been reversed. Today, Iran is further away from acquiring a nuclear weapon than before negotiations began.
            “I urge my colleagues in Washington to be patient, carefully evaluate the progress achieved thus far and provide U.S. negotiators the time and space they need to succeed. A collapse of the talks is counter to U.S. interests and would further destabilize an already-volatile region.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Tim Kaine (D-VA)
            “While I am disappointed the P5+1 missed today’s deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, I believe the extension announced today is better than the alternatives: an inadequate agreement that fails to sufficiently curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or a complete collapse of  negotiations.  The Joint Plan of Action has proved to be a successful interim measure, and I believe some extension is appropriate to allow time and space for further negotiations. Moving forward, I expect to see demonstrable progress toward a robust deal that blocks all potential pathways to a bomb and lays out a comprehensive inspections and verification regime, with no ambiguity on the consequences should Iran cheat.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs Chris Murphy (D-CT)
            “While I am disappointed that there was not a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program reached today in Vienna, the decision to extend the negotiations is a far better outcome than a bad deal or no deal at all. President Obama has consistently said the United States would not accept an agreement that did not place sufficient constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. The US negotiating team and our partners in the P5+1 made significant progress over the last year, but significant gaps remain on key issues. It is worth taking the time to continue these negotiations in the interest of achieving a better deal.  
Today’s agreement to extend the terms of the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) means that as long as the talks continue, Iran’s nuclear program will be frozen and tough sanctions will remain in place. Furthermore, inspectors can continue to access key facilities, including unannounced inspections at Iran’s Fordow and Natanz facilities. The sanctions relief offered to Iran is minimal in comparison to the sanctions that remain in place.
            "The talks are not going to get easier for Iran with this extension. Crippling sanctions and international isolation will continue, with low oil prices magnifying the strain on Iran’s economy.
            "As long as talks continue under these conditions, it is important that the United States not be responsible for a breakdown in negotiations, which is why I believe it would be unwise for Congress to pass new sanctions legislation at this time. Iran has adhered to its commitments under the interim agreement. Imposing new sanctions now would be a violation of that agreement by the United States, opening the door for Iran to retaliate by resuming uranium enrichment to 20%, adding new and advanced centrifuges, or other dangerous and escalatory measures.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement

House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD)
            “I welcome the unified efforts of the P5+1 to reach a final agreement with Iran on the dismantling of its nuclear weapons program. The Administration has affirmed that the negotiations have resulted in freezing Iran’s nuclear program and that the sanctions regime has held, but status quo is not the goal.  The goal has always been – and must continue to be – to ensure that Iran never achieves a nuclear weapons capability.  That is why I have concerns about continued extensions of these negotiations.  Specifically, I continue to be concerned about ongoing centrifuge-related research and development and military projects relating to the development of deployment systems.
            "In the days and weeks ahead, Iran must grant the IAEA complete and unfettered access to those facilities for which it has requested access.  The Administration ought to provide a detailed accounting of what sanctions relief is being contemplated along with a proposed plan for how such relief would be phased-in.  Over the coming months there must be a robust discussion between the Administration and Congress – and in consultation with our global partners – as to what additional pressure ought to be applied to compel Iran to sign a final agreement.  This discussion must include the possibility of further sanctions that remind Iran’s leaders what is at stake if they continue to dissemble and delay.  Any eventual agreement must lead to the dismantling of Iran's nuclear arms infrastructure, be fully verifiable, and include an inspections regime that provides transparency into all aspects of Iran’s nuclear program.
            “It is my expectation that the Administration will be briefing the Congress prior to its adjournment on the specifics of this extension.  I look forward to receiving those briefings, and I will continue to monitor developments closely.”  
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA)
            "Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Sherman deserve enormous credit and our sincere thanks for their tireless effort these past many months pursuing a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear program. I know all parties involved would have preferred to leave Vienna with a comprehensive framework in place. However, I welcome the news that American, Iranian, and P5+1 negotiators will extend their talks until June 30, 2015 with the hope of organizing a framework as early as March.  U.S.- Iranian relations have markedly improved since negotiations began one year ago; it is imperative we maintain that positive momentum.
Many in Congress will see this as the end of the road, the signal to toughen up already crippling sanctions. That would be the wrong move, a slap in the face to a year's worth of hard fought and honest negotiations by U.S. diplomats. Worse still, it could prompt Iran to drive its nuclear program back under ground, bringing us right back to the perilous situation we were faced with one year ago.
            "With so much of the Middle East marred by violence, it is certainly in our interest, and Iran's, to return to the drawing board, to keep the conversation going, and hopefully arrive at a compromise that would do much to bolster a region in desperate need of stability and peace."
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Tim Johnson (D-SD)
            "As Chairman of the Banking Committee and author of many of the sanctions that helped force Iran to negotiate, I have urged my Senate colleagues to hold off on legislatively imposing new sanctions during ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran. While substantial progress has been made, and Iran continues to comply with its agreements, more must be done to give the US and the international community confidence they could detect and stop any move by Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, either through a “breakout” using existing nuclear facilities or a “sneak out” using clandestine sites. Having Congress impose new sanctions on Iran or place unworkable timetables and conditions on negotiators now would be grossly counterproductive, potentially shattering the international coalition formed to isolate Iran and escalating toward war."
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI)
            “I support the decision to extend nuclear talks with Iran. To this point, the interim agreement reached a year ago has been a net plus as it has maintained the tough sanctions regime, limited Iran’s uranium enrichment and provided inspectors with expanded access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. The extension keeps that interim agreement in place while negotiations continue. But our goal is and should be a comprehensive agreement that ensures Iran does not build a nuclear weapon, and because such an agreement is apparently within reach, it is in the interests of the United States and our partners in this endeavor to pursue it.”
            “This extension demonstrates the international community’s strong desire to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We and our allies will be more secure with such a comprehensive agreement in hand.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Adam Smith (D-WA)
            “While I had hoped that we would have been able to reach a final deal, I support the extension of the interim deal that maintains a freeze on Iran’s nuclear program and makes progress towards a final deal. The President has made it abundantly clear through his words as well as his actions, that under his leadership the United States will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.  I firmly support that goal, which is why I support the extension of negotiations. During negotiations, Iran’s nuclear program will remain frozen and the painful sanctions will stay in place. The extension keeps the pressure on Iran.”
            “It is clear that sanctions are having an effect, and that the economic impact has brought Iran to the negotiating table in a real way.  We should continue to pursue this path and not forget that the President has assembled a rare level of international cooperation. The European Union has put in place forceful sanctions.  China, India and South Korea are all cutting back on oil purchases from Iran or making it harder for Iran to profit.  The world has united to isolate the Iranian regime, which cannot be lost on those making decisions in Tehran.  We should allow the time and space to see if negotiations can work.”
            “We must also remember that negotiations are difficult, and they require significant effort from all sides. The issues are complicated and politically sensitive for all parties involved. Moreover, any potential deal must be lasting, enforceable and achieve the desired outcomes. Forcing an outcome that falls short of our goals or walking away from negotiations at this point in time would not be wise.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)
            “Today's extension is evidence of how far the United States and Iran have come since these negotiations started.”
            “The investment in patient diplomacy made by both countries is yielding significant progress. Iran has already complied with the requirements in the Joint Plan of Action and reduced their capacity to build a nuclear weapon. We are closer than we have ever been to reaching a peaceful agreement and we can’t give up now. I call on Congress to support President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the P5+1 negotiators to close this deal.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
            “The current framework agreement with Iran is actively reducing Iran’s nuclear program, delaying ‘break out’ capacity, and providing inspections and verification to prevent the advancement of their nuclear program.”
            “This extension continues these important restrictions and safeguards while moving us toward a long-term deal that will support our national security and global peace. This extension creates the diplomatic space for that deal to be achieved.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI)
            “Diplomacy is the only viable path to prevent a nuclear Iran.”
            “According to a recent CNN poll, 76 percent of Americans support direct diplomacy as part of a strategy to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Americans know that military confrontation—the only alternative to diplomacy—would be, in this instance, counterproductive and carry unacceptable costs in terms of lives and treasure. Congress must support President Obama's continuing efforts to obtain a strong and verifiable agreement to peacefully prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the world's most volatile region.”     
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA)
            “I know it's difficult to remain patient, but with a historic agreement within our reach, patience is required.”
            “I believe it is far better to take a bit more time to get a strong verifiable agreement than to have no agreement or a weak one. I urge all sides to demonstrate the political will, flexibility and courage to get the job done, and done well. I will continue to follow this issue closely.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Rep. David Price (D-NC)
            “I am encouraged by today's news from Vienna. This extension means that the negotiations will continue under the terms of the existing Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), which has verifiably frozen and rolled back Iran's nuclear program over the past year.”
            “While I shared the administration's hope that the talks would yield a final agreement by now, the fact is that another extension is vastly preferable to a return to the pre-JPOA status quo -- or worse.  Instead of rushing to declare the talks a failure -- or taking actions to derail them altogether -- my colleagues in Congress should do everything possible to support the continuation of negotiations and progress toward a final, comprehensive agreement.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)
            “It is welcome news that the U.S. and Iranian diplomats have agreed to stay at the negotiating table by extending talks.”
            “While some of my colleagues have objected to negotiations with Iran, it must be noted that thanks to these historic diplomatic efforts the world is further from a nuclear-armed Iran, and the risk of an eventual war over this issue. Now more than ever is the time to commit ourselves to diplomacy. We know the outcome of a rush to war. Too many hardline members and members-elect are already opposing a deal, emboldening hardliners in Iran. What the hardliners do not say, is that failure to reach a deal clears the path to war.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA)
            “Diplomacy takes time. I continue to believe that the benefits of an eventual agreement with Iran will be worth the wait. Congress must not undermine our negotiators with unwise legislative actions.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
            “We have seen meaningful progress since the Joint Plan of Action was agreed to in November 2013.”
            “Under this plan, Iran has down blended and stopped production of 20% enriched uranium, halted work on its Arak hard water facility, and allowed daily inspections of its enrichment facilities.  None of these achievements would be in place without the Joint Plan of Action, and we shouldn’t abandon this progress today.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI)
            “Throughout these negotiations, I have been deeply skeptical about the Iranian regime’s willingness to make the concrete concessions necessary to convince the world that its nuclear program is peaceful.  The crippling sanctions that the United States and the international community imposed on Iran have been instrumental in bringing the regime to the negotiating table. These sanctions cannot be eased unless leaders in Tehran provide more than simple promises that they are not seeking a nuclear weapon, and they have yet to give anything beyond assurances.
            “The United States and its partners continue to make progress in these negotiations and remain steadfast in getting a good deal rather than settling on terms that will leave the United States, Israel, and the international community worse off.  I will continue to closely monitor negotiations over the coming months to ensure that any final deal includes a strict verification regime with unprecedented inspection and monitoring procedures that will verify that Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon have been blocked.
            “Members of Congress are right to remain vigilant about ensuring Iran’s full and substantiated compliance with any final deal.  Anything less is non-negotiable.  But we ought to refrain from taking premature legislative action during these final months that could permanently derail negotiations, undermine the tough multilateral sanctions on Iran, and lead the regime to restart the unrestricted and unmonitored nuclear program that we are determined to end.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement
Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI)
            “Strong sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, but the recent extension of the P5+1 negotiations demonstrates that even tougher sanctions are needed to provide the necessary leverage to ensure Iran abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
            “For the past year, Iran has received economic relief and Congress has refrained from passing increased sanctions in a good faith effort by the United States and our allies to enhance the chance of a diplomatic solution.
            “What was clear to many of us before should now be clear to everyone--Iran is not negotiating in good faith. We need tougher sanctions to empower tougher diplomacy against a regime intent on building nuclear weapons that would threaten the United States, destabilize the region and pose an existential threat to Israel.”
            Nov. 25, 2014 in a statement
Senior Member of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)
            "Yesterday's announcement that no agreement had been reached between the P5+1 and Iran on a permanent deal to dismantle Iran's nuclear program came as little surprise, but the failure to arrive at even a framework for a final agreement casts serious doubt on whether Iran is ready to make the kind of concessions necessary to end its international isolation and join the community of nations. On two of the most significant issues, the need to eliminate or dramatically reduce Iran's enrichment capability and the pace of sanctions relief, little or no advance appears to have been made. Secretary Kerry has stated that important progress has been achieved, but in light of the impasse on these two issues, it is unclear what step forward has been made that suggests a final agreement is attainable. Regrettably, it appears that whatever Mr. Rouhani's intentions, the Ayatollah Khamenei's objective is to obtain the maximum relief of the sanctions possible while giving up as little of Iran's nuclear program as possible -- and it is Khamenei who calls the shots.
            "The new interim agreement preserves the status quo with one very important asymmetry -- Iran gets an additional 700 million in sanctions relief each month while apparently making no new concession on its nuclear program. When the last extension was agreed to, both sides were required to pay a price in order to buy time: the P5+1 gave a new increment of sanctions relief and Iran was required to further blend down its stockpile. That should have been model for any further extension but this appears not to be the case. And while the currently falling price of oil may easily erase and more the 700 million a month in relief Iran gets from the extension, such an external mitigating factor is no substitute for a properly balanced agreement.
            "In the days to come, I will look forward to hearing from Secretary Kerry and the Administration what progress they believe has been made in the negotiations that warrant the extension of time and why they believe a framework agreement is achievable in the next four months. Secretary Kerry has said that it would be unwise to walk away from the interim agreement now, since the breakout time has been expanded. This may be true, but it could equally be said seven months from now if no deal is reached then, and at a certain point we may have to acknowledge that Iran is simply unwilling to negotiate away its nuclear program. If that point is now, or seven months from now, it will be critically important for the imposition and cohesion of new sanctions that the other nations in the P5+1 know that the United States made every effort to succeed in a negotiated resolution."
            Nov. 25, 2014 in a statement
Senior Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin (D-MD)
            "The only successful outcome is where Iran is no longer a nuclear threat, where Iran has dismantled its nuclear infrastructure, limited its nuclear research and submitted to verifiable inspections without notice. This result is best achieved through diplomacy.
            "A year ago, Congress gave the administration the benefit of the doubt and put even more severe sanctions on hold as negotiations pushed forward. To its credit, the administration has kept an international sanctions regime in place and slowed Iran’s breakout capacity.
            "I am concerned about yet another extension of the negotiations without a commitment by Iran to a satisfactory agreement. An indefinite status quo – limited sanctions relief with no sign of a final agreement – cannot be the end result. Additional time may very well be used by Iran to harden their defenses and their resolve to become a nuclear weapon state."
            Nov. 25, 2014 in a statement
Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA)

Sen. Angus King (I-ME)
            “The threat of a nuclear armed Iran is real and unacceptable. That is why I support Secretary Kerry and our P5+1 partners in their endeavor to achieve this important – and historic – goal to ensure Iran can never develop nuclear weapon capability. Our national security and the security in the region hinges on the success of these negotiations,” said Senator King. “While the announcement of another extension is disappointing, I look forward to hearing the details of the extension from Administration officials to determine if we are on the right path to achieving our objectives. The stakes couldn’t be higher, but the issues are complex. I encourage our negotiators to stay at the table and explore every pathway to an acceptable resolution.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
            “I support this extension because it maintains a strong sanctions regime, keeps Iran’s program frozen in place and subject to rigorous inspections, and continues talks toward a peaceful end to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, which is in the best interests of America and the world.” 
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a statement