House on Collision Course With White House Over Iran

Image: House on Collision Course With White House Over Iran Reps. Luke Messer, left, and Chris Smith

Thursday, 05 Dec 2013 08:32 AM

By John Gizzi

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As the House of Representatives re-convened this week following its Thanksgiving break, it is clear that members of both parties are headed for a major showdown with the White House over the recent agreement between Iran and the leading world powers.

The White House left no doubt that the new agreement with the P5+1 group — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany — that permits Iran to enrich uranium should be implemented without further sanctions.

But numerous House members pulled no punches in saying they did not trust Iran and are still worried about the possibility that the Islamic regime in Tehran could obtain a nuclear weapon.

In recent foreign policy disagreements such as those over Syria and Egypt, the most vocal opponents of the administration's position were often the most junior Republicans in the House.

But what makes this clash with Iran different is that Democrats as well as some senior Republicans in the House are lining up as hardline opponents of trusting Iran.

In October, freshman Reps. Luke Messer, an Indiana Republican, and Brad Schneider, an Illinois Democrat, organized 76 of their fellow freshmen from both parties to sign a letter calling on the administration to do everything in its power to make sure Iran did not obtain nuclear weaponry.

"In foreign policy, this president will be judged by one simple standard: did he prevent Iran from getting the bomb?" Messer told Newsmax.

Messer, who is president of the class of freshman Republicans in the House and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the agreement supported by the administration "validates Iran's right to enrich uranium to a 5 percent level in six months."

Senior lawmakers in the House also weighed in strongly against any new agreement with Iran.

Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, a 33-year incumbent and the longest-serving Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said any agreement that permits Iran to have nuclear enrichment is "egregiously flawed."

"When it comes to Iran, this president has not been helpful at all,” Smith told Newsmax. "He tried to weaken previous sanctions and opposes newer and tougher sanctions."

Smith recalled that he and other House members from both parties fought to keep Iranian crude oil off the market. "This is what is keeping their economy afloat and we were trying to hit Iran's lifeline," he said.  But the Obama administration helped torpedo the harder-hitting sanctions.

Smith noted that Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, "is working side-by-side with me to promote the next sanctions bill."

Smith and Messer spoke to Newsmax a day after White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters "the agreement reached by the P5+1 with Iran needs to be implemented, and that both the president and Congress have a responsibility to fully test whether we can achieve a comprehensive solution through diplomatic means before pursuing alternatives."

Carney warned that "passing any new sanctions right now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution to this issue by giving the Iranians an excuse to push the terms of the agreement on their side. Furthermore, new sanctions are unnecessary right now because our core sanctions architecture remains in place and the Iranians continue to be under extraordinary pressure.

"There is no doubt in Iran that should this agreement fail, Congress and this administration will quickly impose harsh new sanctions. It would make more sense to… keep our powder dry until we see whether Iran violates the understanding," Carney said.

But Messer and his colleagues do not want to give Iran the opportunity to violate the agreement and then have Congress move to impose new sanctions after a violation.

Iran "needs to reach two certain benchmarks: first, an end of nuclear enrichment and second, a public declaration that they won't build a nuclear bomb," Messer said.

Citing Ronald Reagan’s axiom of "trust but verify" in negotiating arms control with the former Soviet Union, Messer said that "the key to dealing with Iran is to be able to verify. Without verification, there can be no trust."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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