Kerry pushes back against critics of Iran deal
Washington — Secretary of State John Kerry bluntly challenged critics of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran on Thursday, calling it “fantasy, plain and simple,” to think the United States failed to hold out for a better deal at the bargaining table.
“Let me underscore, the alternative to the deal we’ve reached isn’t what we’re seeing ads for on TV,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the first public hearing on the controversial deal to lift economic and other sanctions in exchange for concessions of the Islamic state’s nuclear program.
“It isn’t a better deal, some sort of unicorn arrangement involving Iran’s complete capitulation,” Kerry said.
He spoke after Sen. Bob Corker, the panel’s chairman, spoke scornfully of the administration’s claim that the only alternative to the deal that was reached was a war with Iran, telling Kerry, “You’ve been fleeced.”
The Tennessee Republican said he was depressed Wednesday evening after hearing Kerry and other administration officials make the claim in a closed-door briefing for lawmakers.
Kerry was joined by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who sat across the table from Iranian negotiators in the talks, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, whose agency enforces many of the sanctions that has squeezed Iran’s economy in recent years as part of a strategy to force Tehran to the bargaining table.
The hearing marked the next phase of a bruising struggle that will lead to what will arguably be the biggest foreign policy vote in more than a decade.
The deal will take effect unless Congress blocks it, and Republicans in control of the House and Senate have made clear they intend to do precisely that in September.
Obama has vowed to veto any such bill. That would clear the way for a vote to override his veto. The administration is searching for 34 votes in the Senate or 146 in the House, enough to assure the veto sticks.
Democrats emerging from Wednesday’s closed-door briefing sounded optimistic the administration would be successful.
“I’d be shocked if there’s more than a handful of Republican ‘yes’ votes, if there are any at all,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut. “But I’ve talked to most all my colleagues on the Democratic side. … I think the administration is, one by one, picking off some of the most important lingering questions from Democrats.”
Murphy, another member of the committee, said he still has questions about whether the inspection protocol will be as rigorous as the administration claims, but that if it is, he’ll support the deal.
Democrats and allied independents control 46 seats in the Senate.
Kerry’s mention of television ads referred to commercials aired by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee designed to convince lawmakers to reject the deal.