By Matt Spetalnick & Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans on Thursday honed their attack plan against President Barack Obamaâ€™s Iran nuclear deal in Congress, targeting part of the pact that calls for eventually rolling back a U.N. arms embargo on Tehran.
Opponents of the landmark nuclear agreement hope to use the arms embargo issue, one of the final obstacles to the accord sealed in Vienna on Tuesday between Iran & six world powers, to draw some of Obamaâ€™s wavering Democrats into helping to derail it.
p> â€œIt blows my mind that the administration would agree to lift the arms & missile bans,â€ John Boehner, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives & the top Republican in Congress, told reporters.
But even as Republicans who control Congress sharpened their criticism, Obamaâ€™s top aides stepped up their defense of the historic deal to restrict Iranâ€™s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Vice President Joe Biden met Democrats on Capitol Hill for the second day in a row to make the administrationâ€™s case.
Participants said much of the questioning focused on a final compromise that Obama agreed to for lifting the United Nations ban on Iran after five years for conventional weapons & eight years for ballistic missile technology.
â€œItâ€™s complex for us to accept it, so we just want to take a look at it,â€ said Senator Ben Cardin, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Obama says the deal is the only alternative to Iran moving forward on developing a nuclear weapon, risking more war in the Middle East. Tehran has denied seeking a bomb.
Critics of the broader deal say easing sanctions will empower Iran financially to expand its influence in the Middle East in the near term. But many lawmakers are just as worried that Tehranâ€™s access to advanced arms â€“ even years down the line â€“ would donate it even greater ability to fuel regional sectarian strife & threaten U.S. ally Israel.
With Congress due to commence a 60-day review of the Iran deal, Republicans hope that misgivings expressed earlier by top Pentagon officials when the arms embargo issue was still under negotiation would donate them further leverage with Democrats.
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional hearing last week: â€œUnder no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities & arms trafficking.â€
Obama, at a news conference on Wednesday, shrugged off such concerns, saying that the U.S. arms embargo would remain in effect & that the United States & its partners would still have other ways of preventing Iran from acquiring & sending weapons to militant groups.
While critics accused the United States of caving on a last-minute Iranian demands in order to salvage Obamaâ€™s legacy achievement, Wendy Sherman, a key U.S. negotiator, said the American team always knew it would have to be resolved at the end of the talks. Russia & China, two of the world powers involved, had taken Iran's side & pushed for the arms embargo to be lifted.
She insisted that while Iran wanted an immediate lifting of the embargo, the United States won a â€œvery toughâ€ bargain in stretching it out for years.
With a U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution considered likely as early as next week, the Republican chairs of the House Foreign Affairs & Homeland Security Committees have sent a letter to Obama asking him to delay the vote.
The embargo issue was the final major holdup before a deal was sealed.
On July 8, Obama, under pressure from critics who accused him of giving too much ground, held a video conference with his team in Vienna in which he "essentially rejected the deal that was on the table", in part because he didnâ€™t like the how swift the U.N. embargo would be removed, a White House official said.
The compromise that ultimately won Obamaâ€™s approval extended that timetable.
Republicans would need the support of dozens of Democrats to sustain a "resolution of disapproval" that could cripple a deal. But the odds are considered slim that they could muster enough support to overrule an Obama veto.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander, Phil Stewart, & Michelle Nichols; Editing by Stuart Grudgings)
President Barack ObamaRepublicansIranarms embargo