WASHINGTON (CBS DC/AP) — The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is accusing the Obama administration the rhetoric they are using on Iran is “fear-mongering.”
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., told NPR’s “All Things Considered” that he doesn’t appreciate the White House claiming that more sanctions would lead to possible war with Iran.
“What I don’t appreciate is when I hear remarks out of the White House spokesman say that … if we’re pursuing sanctions then we’re marching the country off to war, you know. I think that that’s way over the top,” Menendez told NPR. “I think that’s fear-mongering. I think that the desire to try to get a deal is something to be applauded. I may not be happy with what we gave up for what we got, but I am hopeful that they can achieve the ultimate goal.”
Last weekend’s agreement reached in Geneva between Iran and six world powers — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — is to temporarily halt parts of Tehran’s disputed nuclear program and allow for more intrusive international monitoring. In exchange, Iran gains some modest relief from stiff economic sanctions and a pledge from President Barack Obama that no new penalties will be levied during the six months.
Menendez said more needed to be done to get Iran to rollback the Tehran regime’s nuclear program.
“We are going to roll back some of our sanctions, but they are rolling back nothing in their program, except for reducing the 20 percent enriched uranium to 3.5 or 5 [percent],” Menendez stated. “So they have really still poised to be able to move their program forward if they don’t end up in a deal. We will have, you know, reduced not only giving them money, but we will have reduced some of our critical sanctions such as the reduction of further petroleum purchases in Iran.”
Menendez wanted Iran’s centrifuges to be reduced under the short-term agreement.
“Their centrifuges are spinning. The extent of their centrifuges don’t get reduced under the agreement,” Menendez told NPR. “The amount of enriched uranium that gets reduced doesn’t get reduced beyond the critical threshold level that is the jumping point in which you can get enough fuel enriched to create a nuclear bomb.”
Obama shot back at critics earlier this week during a West Coast trip, declaring that the United States “cannot close the door on diplomacy.”
Obama, without naming names, swiped at those who have questioned the wisdom of engaging with Iran.
“Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing to do for our security,” he said during an event in San Francisco.
At a high-dollar fundraiser in Los Angeles, Obama said he will not take any options off the table to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon.
However, he added, “I’ve spent too much time at Walter Reed looking at kids 22, 23, 24, 25 years old who’ve paid the kind of price that very few of us in this room can imagine on behalf of our freedom not to say that I will do every single thing that I can to try to resolve these issues without resorting to military conflict.”
Obama and his advisers know the nuclear negotiations are rife with risk. If he has miscalculated Iran’s intentions, it will vindicate critics who say his willingness to negotiate with Tehran is naive and could inadvertently hasten the Islamic republic’s march toward a nuclear weapon. Obama also runs the risk of exacerbating tensions with key Middle Eastern allies, as well as members of Congress who want to deepen, not ease, economic penalties on Iran.
Despite Obama’s assurances that no new sanctions will be levied on Iran while the interim agreement is in effect, some lawmakers want to push ahead with additional penalties. A new sanctions bill has already passed the House, and if it passes the Senate, Obama could have to wield his veto power in order to keep his promise to Tehran.
Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and many nuclear analysts say a final deal will almost certainly leave Iran with some right to enrich. However, that’s sure to spark more discord with Israel and many lawmakers who insist Tehran be stripped of all enrichment capabilities. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he expects the deal to be fully implemented by the end of January.
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