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Lynn Sweet: Iran deal faces skeptics in Congress, including Mark Kirk

Updated: December 25, 2013 6:51AM

WASHINGTON — While President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday night that Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program, there will be plenty of skeptics in Congress — including Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. — about granting Iran any relief from economic sanctions, a key component of the deal.

After negotiations in Geneva between Iran and the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China — with input from the European Union — Obama said from the White House, “we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program.”

Iran, starved for cash and other financial assets because of sanctions from the international community came to the table because of sanctions, which Obama characterized in his brief remarks as already “tough.”

“On our side, the United States and our friends and allies have agreed to provide Iran with modest relief, while continuing to apply our toughest sanctions,” Obama said.

“We will refrain from imposing new sanctions, and we will allow the Iranian government access to a portion of the revenue that they have been denied through sanctions. But the broader architecture of sanctions will remain in place and we will continue to enforce them vigorously. And if Iran does not fully meet its commitments during this six-month phase, we will turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure.”

The deal comes as Kirk, one of the leading Iran hawks in Congress, has been considering pushing for tougher sanctions on Iran to keep up the pressure to bargain.

In the run-up to the Geneva talks, Obama phoned Kirk to try to head him off from pursuing further sanctions.

Kirk is skeptical that Iran will live up to its end of the nuclear bargain and is concerned that the first six months of the deal will yield only billions of dollars for Iran. He is proposing continuing to work on tougher sanctions — at the same time as the new accord jumps into play.

“I share the president’s goal of finding a diplomatic solution to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, but this deal appears to provide the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions that neither fully freeze nor significantly roll back its nuclear infrastructure,” Kirk said in a statement Saturday night.

“Furthermore, the deal ignores Iran’s continued sponsorship of terrorism, its testing of long-range ballistic missiles and its abuse of human rights.

“I will continue working with my colleagues to craft bipartisan legislation that will impose tough new economic sanctions if Iran undermines this interim accord or if the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is not under way by the end of this six-month period.”

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement, “I have serious concerns that this agreement does not meet the standards necessary to protect the United States and our allies.

“Instead of rolling back Iran’s program, Tehran would be able to keep the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability. Yet we are the ones doing the dismantling — relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years. This sanctions relief is more lifeline than ‘modest.’ Secretary Kerry should soon come before the Foreign Affairs Committee to address the many concerns with this agreement.”


Twitter: @lynnsweet

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