08.03.15

Top Democrat on House Intelligence panel backs Iran nuclear deal

The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), said on Monday that Congress should back the Iran nuclear agreement, adding the support of another Jewish Democrat for the deal. 

He said as an American and Jew deeply concerned about the security of Israel, preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb is "intensely personal."  

"In the absence of a credible alternative, Congress should accept the deal and work with the Administration to strengthen its impact, while joining forces with our allies to better contain Iran's conventional capabilities and nefarious conduct in the region and beyond," he said in a statement. 

 

Schiff said there are elements of the deal he likes, while others are "deeply concerning." 

 

He said the deal "realistically precludes Iran from developing an atomic bomb for fifteen or more years, and does so while reducing the chances of war." 

 

He also endorsed the mechanism under the deal that would allow the U.S. to unilaterally snap back sanctions in the event of Iranian noncompliance, as well as the "intrusive" inspections into Iran.  

 

However, he cited two "deeply concerning" elements: lack of robust access to the sites of Iran's past military work, which would be addressed with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Iran's freedom to have a nuclear program after many of the deal's provisions expire in 15 years. 

 

Last week, lead negotiator Wendy Sherman said she briefed House members, committee chairmen and ranking members on the confidential agreements between the IAEA and Iran on possible military dimensions of its program, which Republicans say are "side agreements" that Congress should examine. 

 

Schiff said "the United States does not appear to have obtained the more robust access to military sites that we sought, but this is mitigated by the fact that the IAEA and U.S. already have considerable intelligence about the type of work that Iran has done to construct, deliver and detonate an atomic bomb." 

 

"No one expects Iran or its scientists to be the least bit forthcoming about Iran's past weaponization work," he added, saying that U.S. intelligence "already provides a good basis for calculations even without Iran coming clean on its [possible military dimensions]."  

 

Schiff also said it is worrying that after 15 years, Iran would be left with a robust and internationally legitimized enrichment capability.

 

"At the end of fifteen years, Iran will have few constraints on the speed of its enrichment, and at that point it is the work necessary to produce the mechanism for the bomb that becomes the real obstacle to a breakout — and that work is among the most difficult to detect," he said. 

 

"I have searched for a better, credible alternative and concluded that there is none," he added.  

 

Schiff's support follows the endorsement of the deal last week by Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the longest-serving Jewish member of Congress. 

 

His support also comes amid an intense White House lobbying effort to build Democratic support for the deal, as Republicans seek to reject it. Congress is expected to vote on the deal in September. If lawmakers reject it, the president would need at least 13 Senate Democrats and 43 House Democrats to sustain a veto. 

 

If Congress rejects the deal, the sanctions regime will "almost certainly erode," if not collapse, Schiff said. 

 

He laid out a list of ways Congress could improve the deal, including making clear that repercussions would be severe, strengthening intelligence capabilities and setting the expectation that Iran will never be permitted to produce highly enriched uranium.

 

He said he hoped the deal would empower Iranian reforms during the duration of the agreement. If Iran is determined to go nuclear, however, he said the U.S. would have to use force. 

 

"But then at least, the American people and others around the world will recognize that we did everything possible to avoid war," he said.  


By:  Kristina Wong
Source: The Hill