A U.S. Cabinet member unwittingly admitted Wednesday that he has not yet seen side agreements between Iran and the UN’s nuclear watchdog, regarding Tehran’s nuclear program.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on an Iran deal with world power reached earlier this month, senior administration officials were once again grilled about the agreement.
One leading Republican complained that lawmakers may have to vote on the agreement without first having a chance to review documents that were separately negotiated by international nuclear inspectors.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has several side agreements with Iran regarding inspection procedures that neither the U.S. government nor Congress have seen.
Committee chairman, Sen. John McCain, repeatedly asked the quartet of representatives whether Congress would be aware of those protocols as Iran has “a clear record of cheating”.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz stumbled over his words in response and said he had not yet seen the documents.
McCain, who has staunchly opposed the deal, was furious. “To be honest with you, that is absolutely astounding that you have not seen the documents that are about requirement for verification, Mr. Secretary,” McCain angrily replied.
Kerry said the U.S. is “aware of what the basics” of the “confidential agreement” were after being briefed on it, and not publicly releasing details was a “standard procedure and in 189 countries that have an agreement with the IAEA”
Apart from the deal, which consumed a large portion of the hearing, lawmakers also expressed concern for security in the region and any military options available as alternatives to the deal.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the deal prevents Iran from developing an atomic weapon but it does not tackle Tehran’s aggression in the region.
“These run the gamut from ballistic missile technology to weapons trafficking, to the use of surrogates and proxies to naval mines and undersea activity — and last but not least, to malicious activity in cyberspace,” Dempsey told lawmakers.
Asked if he had advised President Barack Obama on going to war with Iran as an alternative to the deal, Dempsey said that at no time did the issue come up in conversations nor did he comment on it.
Fresh off a Middle East tour, Defence Secretary Ash Carter said the deal was only part of a strategy and the U.S. was moving “full speed ahead” to confront aggression by Iran and Daesh in the region.
“We will continue to maintain a strong military posture to deter aggression,” Carter said.
Wednesday’s hearing was the third in a week, in which senior Obama administration officials have testified before congressional committees and tried to beat back Republican criticism of the Iran agreement.
Congress has begun a 60-day review of the deal, with a congressional vote expected in September.
The administration has sought much-needed congressional support, particularly in the Senate, to ensure lawmakers do not have a two-thirds majority in each congressional chambers to override a potential veto of legislation that undermines the accord.
Obama, who said he welcomes a “robust” debate on the deal has threatened to veto legislation that undermines the accord.