House Reps Concerned Over Iran's Uranium Enrichment
U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives said on Wednesday they are concerned about Iran's ability to continue enriching uranium under the interim agreement reached with the West in Geneva, Reuters reports.
The concerns showed that House lawmakers could be willing to push for a new sanctions package next year that would define what Congress would be willing to accept in a final deal with Iran.
The six-month interim deal made by the P5+1 powers and Iran gives International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors greater access to Iran's nuclear facilities and requires the Islamic Republic to halt its enrichment of higher grade uranium, but still allows Iran to continue enriching uranium up to 5 percent purity for generating nuclear power.
"It would have been better if Iran during the course of the negotiations would stop enriching. I don't think that would have been too much to ask Iran," Representative Eliot Engel, a Democrat and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters, according to Reuters.
"It makes me question the sincerity of the Iranians," Engel told reporters after a classified House briefing with Wendy Sherman, the State Department's lead negotiator on Iran's nuclear program.
Representative Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, said after the briefing that she suspects Iran would be able to continue to enrich even after a final deal.
"Unfortunately I believe the Obama administration, from what we have heard today, may very well allow Iran to maintain the right to enrich," she said.
"The only way we will ensure that Iran does not ultimately obtain a nuclear weapon will be if they dismantle the centrifuges and also relinquish the enriched uranium that they have now," added Bachmann.
Representative Tom Price, a Republican from Georgia, said on Tuesday that the Obama administration had given Iran too much in the interim agreement.
"I think we have to be much more aggressive in pushing back on the administration on what they've done so far," he said before lawmakers met with Sherman.
Lawmakers in the Republican-led House are waiting for the Senate to move on a bill the House passed this summer, by a majority of 400-20, that would place new sanctions on Iran.
Senators have said they intend to pass new sanctions on Iran despite the deal that was reached with it. A report this week said that a bipartisan group of senior senators is working on a new sanctions bill that the senators hope to pass before the end of December.
The White House has been waging a very aggressive campaign to convince the senators to wait before passing new sanctions.
On Tuesday, the White House warned that passing new sanctions, even with a delayed launch date, would give Iran an excuse to undermine the interim nuclear deal reached in Geneva.
President Barack Obama recently told lawmakers that Iran would make progress in its ability to build a nuclear weapon if there is no diplomatic deal to halt or roll back its nuclear program.
The House members might have a real reason for concern. A report Tuesday indicated that the White House is currently examining ways to enable Iran to have its own “domestic” uranium enrichment program.
“Over the next six months, we will explore, in practical terms, whether and how Iran might end up with a limited, tightly constrained, and intensively monitored civilian nuclear program, including domestic enrichment,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told the Washington Free Beacon.
“Any such program,” she said, “would be subject to strict and verifiable curbs on its capacity and stockpiles of enriched uranium for a significant number of years and tied to practical energy needs that will remain minimal for years to come.”