Rockefeller supports Iran agreement, while Manchin 'optimistic'
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is supporting the agreement Secretary of State John Kerry helped reach with Iran last weekend.
"The agreement reached on Iran's nuclear program is an important first step toward preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, which is critical to the security of the U.S. and its allies," Rockefeller said in a statement released late Tuesday afternoon.
"This agreement was possible because the powerful sanctions that we put in place, designed to force Iran to the negotiating table, have done precisely that. I urge all of my colleagues to come together in support of the agreement."
Under the agreement, Iran has to stop producing uranium enriched for use in potential nuclear weapons and agree to inspections. In return, Iran will get some relief from current sanctions, which will give the Iranian government some access to its own money currently frozen in foreign accounts.
"Holding Iran to this agreement stops progress on its nuclear program," Rockefeller said. "It neutralizes Iran's most dangerous stockpile of nuclear material -- 20 percent enriched uranium -- and it establishes significant monitoring mechanisms that enable inspectors to verify that Iran is in compliance with its commitments."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told the Charleston Gazette that he "will never support a nuclear Iran, but I am optimistic about the diplomatic agreement over Iran's nuclear program.
"I fully understand and appreciate the skepticism of many of my colleagues and world leaders. I have always said that being a superpower means more than super military might; it means super diplomacy and super restraint," Manchin said.
"When a possibility for peace presents itself, no matter how distant or unlikely, we have an obligation to pursue it. Strong international sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, and the resulting interim agreement is an important first step that could make our world more secure.
"However, Iran must know that the United States stands by Israel in their commitment to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon and threatening the safety of the region and world," Manchin added.
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., told the Gazette on Wednesday, "I am the first to say talking trumps tangling with other nations, but there are still unanswered questions about the interim nuclear agreement with Iran, and the [Obama] Administration needs to provide answers to the Congress and American people. I am not yet convinced that now is the time to begin lifting sanctions.
"I do not want see our nation drawn into another costly, open-ended military conflict, but Iran must not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapons capability that threatens the United States and our allies in the region, especially Israel.
"While pursuing our diplomatic options, we must also maintain strong economic pressure on Iran, which is the aim of the bills I have co-sponsored and supported, most recently in July, when I voted for passage of the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act," Rahall said.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., tweeted on Monday: "I've supported strong sanctions against Iran that make more sense than this agreement. I have no faith that Iran will negotiate honestly."
Rep. David R. McKinley, R-W.Va., did not respond to questions about the new agreement. But he posted an article on his congressional website that was published by Politico Monday and noted, "Israel's Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] harshly condemned the international community's nuclear deal with Iran on Sunday, calling it a 'historic mistake' and saying he was not bound by the agreement."
In May, Manchin co-sponsored the Iran Sanctions Loophole Elimination Act of 2013, which was included in legislation that passed the House on July 31 by a vote of 400 to 20. The Senate has not passed the bill.
The legislation -- co-sponsored with Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Susan Collins, R-Me.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; and John Cornyn, R-Tex. -- sought to block Iran's ability to conduct financial transactions using foreign currencies, including euros.
On Monday, the group DemocraticUnderground.com argued, "Sanctions should not be raised unless the Iranians fail to hold up their part of the agreement."
The Democratic Underground noted the Senate legislation was written before the recent breakthrough in negotiations with Iran.
J Street, a liberal Jewish lobbying group in Washington, D.C., is backing efforts to support the agreement negotiated by Kerry.
On the other hand, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, strongly opposes the new agreement. AIPAC routinely reflects the position of the Israeli government in power.
Rockefeller said the new agreement still "leaves the heaviest sanctions fully in place. If Iran does not execute on the commitments it made under the agreement, the relief stops, and the sanctions will be intensified.
"As we move forward, there should not be any illusions about the difficulty of dealing with Iran. This agreement does not magically change the past nor does it ignore Iran's current state sponsorship of terrorism," Rockefeller said. "There will be real challenges in the months ahead in negotiating a long-term comprehensive agreement.
"Nevertheless, I have always supported doing everything possible to achieve a peaceful path forward with Iran, and I believe this agreement is a significant step in the right direction.
"Introducing additional sanctions at this point could jeopardize the important progress that this agreement makes.
"The bottom line is that this deal is the best path forward to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon without the use of military force, and I fully support it."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.