Less than a month after Iran was judged to have curbed its nuclear program to the extent that international sanctions could begin to be lifted, U.S. lawmakers met to assess the success of the agreement reached between Iran and six world powers, including the United States.
At a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Feb. 11, members also voiced concerns about the agreement’s effects in the Middle East.
Stephen Mull, lead coordinator for the implementation of the deal at the state department, noted Iran’s progress in implementing the deal and said the U.S. possesses the tools if Iran were to backtrack.
Since the deal became effective on Jan. 16, Iran had reduced its number of centrifuges from more than 19,000 to 6,104 and had removed the core of its Arak reactor, Mull said. He added that the lifting of sanctions by the United States and European Union has opened up more business opportunities for Iran, but that it is only possible if Iran complies with the agreement, including round-the-clock inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“If Iran cheats or fails to meet its end of the bargain, the United States has an array of means to respond, including the ability to re-impose sanctions unilaterally, in part or in full, at any time,” he said.
Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) expressed concern over the activities of the private Iranian Mahan Airlines, which he said is using its planes to ferry weapons and military personnel into Syria to support the Assad regime in the civil war there. Royce criticized the administration for not condemning Mahan’s chief executive for their activities and suggested the United States should take action against institutions that do business with the airline.
Even lawmakers who opposed the agreement and were unable to stop its implementation have accepted it as a fact of life. But they are carefully watching Iran’s behavior.
A group of Jewish Democrats in Congress, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) signed a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to reintroduce sanctions on Iran in response to two missile tests last year that violated U.N. resolutions.
“While we seem to be in many instances talking tough about Iran, in reality our actions are further away from our rhetoric,” Engel said at the hearing. “We want to make sure Iran’s feet are held to the fire and we don’t want loopholes that Iran can wiggle out of its obligations.”
While Engel originally opposed the deal, he said it is time to put politics aside and accept the policy as law.
“No matter what anyone’s position was on the Iran deal, and I strongly opposed the Iran deal, this ship has left port and now we need to decide which course to chart,” he said, adding that attempts by Congress to undermine the deal resemble similar attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) asked Mull a series of questions aimed at confirming Iran’s compliance with the agreement. Mull said Iran had complied with its short-term requirements.
“It sounds to me, we’re not dealing with perfect behavior,” Connolly said. “There are a lot of other things we object to vehemently, but with respect to this agreement, so far they have in fact abided by it, not cheated that we know of.”
Asked if Iran is farther from producing a nuclear weapon than before the deal, Mull said, “That is undeniably true.”