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Deal Done, But Debate  in US Will Go On
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Deal Done, But Debate in US Will Go On

It's a done deal, yet opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement in the United States have no intention to go quietly.

The 60-day congressional review period has expired, and last week the US State Department outlined its plan to put in place an accord that aims to temporarily limit Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. Congress is poised to start cranking out legislation to reinstate sanctions or shore up what some US lawmakers claim is an ill-fated pact.

Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has begun a series of hearings on the US role and strategy in the Middle East that will examine the deal's implications, the AP reported.

"It's going to take a while. It's a very substantive issue," said Corker, who opposed the deal along with all the other senate Republicans. "It will be a complex piece of legislation."

Confronted by Democratic opposition, Corker said, "Let's face it. It's going to be one bite at the apple."

Republicans failed when senate Democrats banded together to block a resolution of disapproval from ever reaching President Barack Obama, who had pledged to veto any such measure. On Thursday, the State Department said Obama would start issuing waivers on Oct. 18 so the US is ready to grant sanctions relief if Tehran fulfills its obligations under the pact.

Iran has to uninstall thousands of centrifuges at its facility at Natanz, its main site for enriching uranium; convert an underground nuclear site at Fordo into a research facility; and redesign its heavy water reactor at Arak so it produces less plutonium. Iran also has to ship out or convert its stockpile of enriched uranium, and comply with an International Atomic Energy Agency investigation into its past nuclear work, which Tehran says has been totally peaceful.

It is not clear how long that will take. If the IAEA finds that Iran has complied with key nuclear commitments, then sanctions imposed by the US, United Nations and Europe on Iran's energy, financial, shipping, auto and other sectors are to be terminated or suspended.

***Implementation Day

"This so-called 'Implementation Day' won't come for six to 12 months," said Mark Dubowitz, a sanctions expert and an opponent of the deal with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based policy institute.

One idea being discussed in Congress calls for shoring up oversight of Iran's compliance. Another measure would reauthorize the Iran Sanctions Act. The law was passed in 1996 to pressure foreign companies not to invest in Iran's oil and gas industries; it has since been expanded.

Other legislation being weighed would increase security support for Israel and US allies in the Persian Gulf worried about Iran gaining influence in the Middle East as a result of the deal.

Iran says its military capabilities are only meant for defense, stressing that it will never start war in the region. Tehran also says the nuclear deal has set the stage for increased regional cooperation to address security challenges.

"Although the congressional review period may be over, now the real work begins," Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said in a speech Thursday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Coons said preventing and deterring Iran from violating the terms of the accord need to be a priority.

As confirmed by the UN nuclear agency's reports, Tehran has met all commitments under an interim nuclear deal it signed with major powers in late 2013, clearing the way for the conclusion of the long-term July 14 agreement.

***Snapback Option    

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, one of only four Senate Democrats to oppose the deal, wants Congress to renew the Iran Sanctions Act "to ensure that we have an effective snapback option [sanctions reinstatement]."

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he will propose legislation with Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to address some of the deal's "shortfalls." Blumenthal and Cardin are Jewish and faced heavy lobbying from their constituents. In the end Blumenthal supported the deal; Cardin opposed it.

Blumenthal said the two will offer legislation to provide an effective way to put sanctions back into place if Iran fails to meet commitments, ensure strict adherence to the agreement and enhance security assistance to Israel.

Looming above all this debate is whether the agreement will last when Obama's successor walks into the Oval Office in 16 months.

Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee have promised to abandon the accord.

 

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