Secretary of State John Kerry told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday he wanted to set the record straight on the Iran nuclear deal and equated walking away from the agreement to giving Tehran a fast track to a nuclear weapon.
“There are conclusions that have been drawn that don’t in fact match with the reality of what this deal sets forth. And we happily look forward to clarifying that during the course of this hearing,” Kerry told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
Joined by two other members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Kerry was part of the Democratic administration’s blitz to coax lawmakers into supporting the nuclear deal.
Under a law Obama signed in May, the Republican-controlled Congress has until Sept. 17 either to endorse or reject or do nothing about the agreement, allowing it to take effect. Rejection would prevent Obama from waiving most U.S.-imposed sanctions on Tehran, a key component of the deal.
Kerry, Lew and Moniz also testified in the Senate on Thursday, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter is among officials due to speak to lawmakers later this week.
Under the July 14 deal, world powers agreed to lift sanctions on Tehran in return for long-term curbs on a nuclear program that the West suspects was aimed at creating an atomic bomb, but which Tehran says is peaceful.
Kerry insisted that walking away would isolate the United States.
“If we walk away, we walk away alone. Our partners are not going to be with us. Instead they’ll walk away from the tough multilateral sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place,” Kerry said.
House members signaled the difficulties the administration will face getting Congress on board.
Representative Ed Royce, the committee’s Republican chairman, said the deal would provide Tehran with a “cash bonanza” while weakening Washington’s ability to pressure Iran’s leaders.
Some Democrats were skeptical also. Representative Eliot Engel, the committee’s top Democrat, said he saw a number of troublesome issues in the agreement.
The administration officials insisted the deal was a better way to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon than more sanctions, or military action.