Rep. Levin backs Iran nuke agreement; others undecided

Melissa Nann Burke, and David Shepardson

Washington — Democrat Sander Levin, the most senior Jewish member of the House, said Tuesday he supports the Iran nuclear deal, calling it one of the most “challenging and crucial” foreign policy decisions in his three decades in office.

“I believe that Israel, the region, and the world are far more secure if Iran does not move toward possession of a nuclear weapon,” Levin said in a statement.

“I believe the agreement is the best way to achieve that.”

Levin’s decision came on a day when Democrats as well as Republicans expressed skepticism over some elements of the deal when Cabinet officials testified about the deal before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The proposed agreement negotiated between Iran and the Obama administration as well as five other world powers has come under criticism from Republican congressional leaders, who are upset that the White House took the agreement first to the United Nations for a quick approval instead of heading to Congress for a 60-day review.

The Republicans, who control both the Senate and House, are likely to reject the agreement. President Barack Obama promises to veto such a move, meaning a united GOP congressional front would need 43 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats to join them to override the veto.

Among the Michigan delegation, Levin joins Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, in favor of the deal. Democratic Reps. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Dan Kildee of Flint Township and Debbie Dingell of Dearborn remain undecided.

Most of Michigan’s nine House Republicans have blasted the deal between Iran and world powers including Russia, China, France and Britain.

GOP critics say the deal frees up money for Iran to pursue further terrorism in the Middle East, while doing little to reduce or prevent Iran from gaining the ability to produce nuclear weapons near the end of the deal in a decade.

Levin of Royal Oak said that, in addition to the deal, the United States must bolster the security of Israel by extending foreign military assistance to Israel for 10 more years and accelerating the development of new missile defense systems.

If Congress rejects the agreement in the hopes of using U.S. sanctions to deter Iran from a nuclear weapon, Levin said there’s a great likelihood the sanctions regime would “quickly fall apart.”

“Sanctions likely would not be continued even by our closest allies, and the U.S. would be isolated trying to enforce our unilateral sanctions as to Iran’s banking and oil sectors,” Levin said.

“If Iran broke out of the agreement and proceeded to build a nuclear weapon, the U.S. and its allies would retain all options to stop it, including the military option.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United States and Jewish American groups opposing the deal are lobbying members to oppose to the agreement, white top Obama administration officials are feverishly promoting the deal on Capitol Hill.

House members have attended classified briefings with officials, and Democrats have been pulled into closed-door meetings.

Lawrence, whose district includes a large Jewish community, is scheduled to travel to Israel during the August recess, according to her office. She is being pressured by agreement supporters and opponents, and has received briefings from more than a dozen groups including the liberal J Street and the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Kildee on Tuesday marked the 32nd birthday of his constituent, Amir Hekmati, who has been imprisoned in Iran for nearly four years.

“It is impossible for any member of Congress to erase from our memory the fact that Iran continues to hold Amir and other innocent Americans,” Kildee said in a statement.

“I know that Congress will be watching Iran’s behavior very closely over the coming weeks, including if they take action to release Amir and the other innocent Americans it holds. Doing so would be a tangible demonstration to Congress and the world that Iran is serious about rejoining the global community.”

Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said in Detroit News interviews that they haven’t decided whether to back the Iran deal and have been wrestling with the issue.

“We have to look at what the alternatives are and really be very thoughtful because it is incredibly serious for the United States and for Israel and for the world. ... It’s a very difficult issue,” said Stabenow, adding she has held lots of meetings on the issue and heard from administration officials at every level.

Peters said he was “still talking to a lot of folks” — both for and against the deal. Peters said he wants to read more classified documents and meet with people in Michigan in the next couple of weeks before making a decision.

Peters said his criteria is “what’s best for the United States, and I believe that if Iran has a nuclear weapon, that is destabilizing for the Middle East and also a significant threat to the United States and our security.”

Neither Michigan senator has set a timetable for when they will make a decision. Congress won’t vote until September.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testified about the agreement Tuesday before the House Foreign Affairs panel, where Democrats as well as Republicans expressed skepticism over some elements of the deal.

Rep. David Trott, R-Birmingham, harkened to his time in the business world.

“I’d say to my team, you can’t do a good deal with a bad guy. So can you sort of understand our concern about this deal? Because it sure looks like you’re doing a good deal — as you suggest — with a bad guy,” Trott told Kerry, citing examples including the four U.S. citizens imprisoned or missing in Iran.

“I understand exactly what you’re saying, and we confronted questions about what could be achieved or not achieved in the course of these negotiations ourselves, and came to the conclusion, therefore, that nothing is based on trust,” Kerry said.

“We set up something that you can read, and we can read, and everybody can understand what the expectations are. That’s one of the reasons why, from a position of strength, we believe we achieved something that really helps establish some level of confidence over the years.”

In an interview, Trott noted that Kerry said several times he doesn’t trust Iran. He agreed that Iran has been a bad actor on the world stage.

“Yet, the whole agreement is predicated on Iran changing its behavior,” Trott said.

He said he is unhappy with the deal’s level of verification to ensure Iran’s compliance and would prefer the United States instead ratchet up sanctions to deter Iran.

“I feel like the administration has put us in a position where we don’t have any good options,” Trott said.

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