WASHINGTON — At a House subcommittee meeting Wednesday, the deep partisan divisions over the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal were on display once again as Republican-selected witnesses criticized the deal as allowing Iran to continue its nuclear capabilities and destabilizing the region.
“The Iran nuclear deal gives Iran a clear road to the bomb,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis, the chairman of the House National Security Committee Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He said the hearing was held to highlight defects of the nuclear deal.
But Democratic Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont said the agreement makes for a more stable situation.
“Will the region be safer with a malign and nonnuclear Iran or with a malign and nuclear Iran?” he asked. “We all agree that we have to enforce this deal.”
The 2015 deal, which also was approved by the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, requires Iran to reduce its nuclear facilities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
All of the Republican congressmen who spoke at the hearing expressed deep distrust for Iran and did not have confidence that the deal will stop Iran from becoming a regional threat, while both Democrats who spoke supported the deal.
The nuclear deal is a “zero nuclear today and 100 nuclear tomorrow deal” for Iran, according to retired Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, who served as a commander in Iraq. The deal will not curb Iran’s ambition to develop nuclear capabilities at the expense of regional stability, he said.
Barbero said that U.S. monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program will be damaged if the State Department budget is cut as President Donald Trump proposed.
Jim Walsh, a senior research associate at the Security Studies Program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, disagreed with Barbero’s analysis of the agreement, saying Iran has complied with the deal, which he called the strongest nonproliferation agreement since the start of the nuclear age.
Walsh was the only witness to approve of the deal. “This is, I won’t say biased, but uneven,” said Walsh in an interview after the hearing, “[The hearing witness arrangements] have been like this since the Republicans took over the Congress. I am glad to have the opportunity to join the conversation.”
The nuclear deal has been a partisan issue since it was signed, said Suzanne Maloney, foreign policy deputy director at the Brookings Institution. But now, “there is probably a greater bipartisanship than any other time since then.”
She also said that is because as Iran gets more heat from the U.S. for its support of militants in the Middle East, “the nuclear deal has somehow become a sideshow.”