WASHINGTON – It took more than 20 months of negotiations to reach agreement on an Iranian nuclear deal, but it took mere hours for Arizona lawmakers to respond to the plan, with support falling along party lines.
What Democrats heralded as a historic breakthrough in diplomacy, promising a safer, more peaceful Iran in years to come, Republicans called a “historic mistake” that would only fuel, not restrict, Iran’s nuclear and violent ambitions.
President Barack Obama early Tuesday announced the multination agreement that he said would significantly decrease Iran’s nuclear capabilities for the next 15 years in exchange for gradually lifting trade and financial sanctions against that country.
The plan also calls for Iran to give up large parts of its uranium stockpile and uranium-enrichment capabilities, which will constantly be monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Congress will have 60 days after it receives the agreement to review it, but cannot amend it: The deal is only subject to an up or down vote. Congress is scheduled to be on recess for the month of August.
Critics note that the restrictions on nuclear power would end within 10 to 15 years and that the Iranian government fundamentally cannot be trusted regardless of its promises.
“Ultimately, the problem with this agreement is that it is built far too much on hope – on the belief that somehow the Iranian government will fundamentally change in the next several years, such that it can be trusted with a growing arsenal, a huge influx of cash and the infrastructure of a nuclear program,” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said in a statement released by his office.
Part of the deal includes lifting an arms embargo against Iran, allowing that country to buy ballistic missiles within eight years and conventional weapons within five. Opponents to the deal questioned the wisdom of letting Iran realize billions of dollars in sanctions relief, followed by new access to weapons, given the country’s record of destabilizing the region.
“Iran has proven time and time again that it can’t be trusted to meet its international obligations and agreements,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, in a prepared statement. “I believe the administration is naive to suggest that the hundreds of billions of dollars Iran will gain access to through this agreement will not be used to continue the proliferation of terrorism across the globe.”
But Democrats like Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, called the deal a historic agreement and a triumph of international relations. Grijalva said the deal had “proven that there is a better paradigm for foreign engagement than the constant threat of military action: it’s called diplomacy.”
“This deal is the responsible way to avert nuclear ambitions, and to ensure that we all share a safer and more peaceful world,” Grijalva said in a statement.
For Iran, the debilitating economic sanctions that have been imposed through oil restrictions and cutting off banks and businesses from global banking systems will be lifted, giving hope for its struggling economy.
The deal, which Obama has called an important part of his legacy, was struck by a group of six nations led by the United States. A critical element of the accord is the lengthening of minimum period of time it would take for Iran to create a single nuclear weapon, known as the “breakout time.”
Previously, the breakout time to assemble a weapon would have been two to three months. If Iran tried to make a bomb under the restrictions of the deal, the breakout time would be at least a year – not enough time to succeed under the gaze of IAEA inspectors, supporters say.
The agreement, which was just released Tuesday morning, is more than 150 pages long, and many in Congress said they planned to thoroughly review the document before casting a vote on it.
But many were also like Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, who said that she will look at the details, but is not encouraged by what she has seen so far.
“Hope is not a strategy, but that seems exactly what we’re doing. This is a strategy that’s going to fail,” McSally said in comments on the House floor Tuesday afternoon.