The concerns showed that House lawmakers could be willing to push
for a new sanctions package next year that would define what
Congress would be willing to accept in a final deal with Iran.
The six-month interim deal made by the United States, five other
world powers and Iran in Geneva last month gives International
Atomic Energy Agency inspectors greater access to Iran's nuclear
facilities and requires the Islamic Republic to halt its enrichment
of higher grade uranium.
But it allows Iran to continue enriching uranium up to 5 percent
purity for generating nuclear power. That level is well below 20
percent pure uranium which can be converted relatively easily into
weapons-grade material. But many lawmakers worry any enrichment in
Iran is too much.
"It would have been better if Iran during the course of the
negotiations would stop enriching. I don't think that would have
been too much to ask Iran," said Representative Eliot Engel, a
Democrat and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"It makes me question the sincerity of the Iranians," Engel told
reporters after a classified House briefing with Wendy Sherman, the
State Department's lead negotiator on Iran's nuclear program.
Representative Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, said after
the briefing that she suspects Iran would be able to continue to
enrich even after a final deal.
"Unfortunately I believe the Obama administration, from what we have
heard today, may very well allow Iran to maintain the right to
enrich," she said. "The only way we will ensure that Iran does not
ultimately obtain a nuclear weapon will be if they dismantle the
centrifuges and also relinquish the enriched uranium that they have
Representative Tom Price, a Republican from Georgia, said on
Tuesday that the Obama administration had given Iran too much in the
interim agreement. "I think we have to be much more aggressive in
pushing back on the administration on what they've done so far," he
said before lawmakers met with Sherman.
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The interim agreement between Iran, the United States, France,
Russia, China, Britain and Germany leaves open the question of
whether Iran can continue to enrich uranium to low levels and
explains that a comprehensive deal would involve a "mutually
defined" enrichment program with "practical limits and transparency
measures" to ensure that it was for peaceful purposes.
Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence
Committee, signaled he was not bothered by the fact that Iran can
continue to enrich low level uranium as world powers work toward a
comprehensive deal. "You're talking (about) a situation where most
of the sanctions are still in place," he said adding that the
agreement allows nuclear inspectors better access than they had
Lawmakers in the Republican-led House are waiting for the Senate to
move on a bill the House passed this summer 400-20 that would place
new sanctions on Iran and drive down the lifeblood of its economy,
oil exports, to almost nothing.
Some sanctions backers in the Senate are seeking to pass new
sanctions that would not take effect unless Iran violated the
The White House said this week it opposes a fresh effort by some
members of the Senate to impose new sanctions on Iran, even if they
did not take effect for months, because it could prod Tehran and the
other world powers to say Washington had negotiated in bad faith.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)