US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a Nov. 24 press conference after talks over Iran's nuclear program in Geneva. (Alexander Klein / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and Israeli officials are voicing their strong opposition to the six-month “first step” deal reached between a host of US allies and the Iranian government last night, calling the deal dangerous and saying it doesn’t go far enough in dismantling the Iranian nuclear program
Speaking on ABC News on Sunday morning, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss said “nothing in the details that I have seen thus from moves us in the direction” of stopping the Iranian uranium enrichment program. “They’re going to continue to enrich uranium” he said.
Despite statements from US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry that the interim deal makes an Iranian bomb less likely, Chambliss added: “I just don’t see this movement in the direction of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon at all,” since the current deal expires in six months if no longer-term deal can be reached.
While the agreement calls for the US to loosen some economic sanctions on the Iranian economy, Chambliss insisted current sanctions are working and “now is the time to tighten those sanctions and get a long-term deal” on dismantling the Iranian enrichment program.
And despite Obama’s pleas to Congress to leave further sanctions alone for the moment in order to let diplomacy work, Chambliss said, “You’re going to see a strong movement in the United States Senate toward tightening sanctions” in the coming days.
Announced late Saturday night after intensive negotiations in Geneva, the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] signed by Iran and the “P5+1” — the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia — is limited to the next six months, during which time the two sides will work to hammer out a more comprehensive accord. The document prohibits Iran from installing or starting new centrifuges, and demands the country halt work at its plutonium reactor while submitting to inspections by international nuclear inspection teams.
The deal also calls for Iran to leave inoperable about half of the centrifuges installed at its Natanz facility and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow to ensure the plants cannot enrich uranium.
In return, the United States will temporarily halt some economic sanctions against Iran worth about $6 billion or $7 billion, according to the White House.
“The relief Iran gets under this agreement is insignificant, economically” a White House official insisted Saturday night, adding they are “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” if the Iranians do not adhere to the terms of the agreement.
The White House insisted no sanctions targeted at Iran’s sponsorship of terrorist groups, or targeting its support for the regime in Syria, would change.
Obama hailed the temporary deal as marking “the first time in nearly a decade we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back.”
As with any negotiated deal, different interpretations of the written text emerged almost immediately.
In a press conference in Geneva after the deal was announced, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif insisted “people should stop threatening to use force because that option is no longer on the table” and the agreement recognizes the “inalienable right” of Iran to be able to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
Kerry, who rushed to Geneva on Friday to take part in negotiations, shot back minutes later: “This first step does not say that Iran has a right to enrichment.”
A senior Obama administration official backed up the Kerry’s comments, saying flatly “The document does not say anything about recognizing the right to enrich uranium. We do not recognize their right to enrich uranium.”
On Sunday morning, Kerry backed up those comments, telling ABC News “There is no right to enrich. We do not recognize the right to enrich.”
“Under the terms of this agreement there will be a negotiation over whether or not” Iranians can pursue future enrichments. “They could only do that by mutual agreement, and nothing is agreed on until everything is agreed on ... they could only gain that capacity only if they live up to all the terms” he added.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., released a statement on the agreement Sunday morning, reading the deal in the same way as the Iranian government .
The agreement “explicitly and dangerously recognizes that Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium” Cantor said. “It is clear why the Iranians are claiming this deal recognizes their right to enrich,” he added.
Cantor lines up behind growing Republican calls for more sanctions as well, stating that “loosening sanctions and recognizing Iran’s enrichment program is a mistake, and will not stop Iran’s march toward nuclear capability.”
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted Saturday night that “unless the agreement requires dismantling of the Iranian centrifuges, we really haven’t gained anything.”
John T. Bennett contributed to this report.