US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said a successful Iran nuclear deal is better than a military strike, adding that the military option is still on the table.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday that the US armed forces stand ready to confront Iran if necessary. He told lawmakers that a successful implementation of the nuclear agreement with Tehran is preferable to a military strike, falling in line with the message the Obama administration is trying to convey to Congress.
Carter, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and three members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet testified at a committee hearing as part of the White House’s aggressive campaign to convince Congress to back the Iranian nuclear deal, which calls on Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
Carter said there is a possibility that the nuclear agreement will move forward but will not be “successfully implemented.”
“That’s why we are under instructions from the president to preserve, and indeed we are improving — and I can’t get into that here — the military option,” Carter said. “Temporary as it is, it needs to be there because that’s our fallback.”
At the same time, Carter said that successful implementation of the agreement would be better than taking military action because a strike would be temporary and likely make Iran “irreconcilably resigned” to getting a nuclear weapon.
Dempsey added that implementation of the nuclear deal actually strengthens the military option because with enhanced inspections and access to sites in Iran, the US would be able to obtain more knowledge about nuclear sites “that we might strike.”
Congress, which has begun a 60-day review of the deal, is expected to vote in September. Obama has said that if the Republican-controlled Congress passes a resolution of disapproval for the deal, he will veto it.
The administration is hoping to secure the backing of Democrats to sustain the veto. Underscoring the hard-fought gains and losses for votes on the deal, New York Representative Grace Meng, a Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, came out against the deal on Wednesday. She said the inspections protocols in the agreement are “flawed” and that she is concerned that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact.
“This leads me to believe Iran would simply resume its pursuit of a nuclear weapon at the conclusion of the deal in a decade’s time,” Meng said, adding that she also fears the sanctions relief will give Iran more money to fund terrorism.
Some Democratic representatives have voiced support for the deal.
Secretary of State John Kerry, the lead negotiator of the deal, tried to allay the concerns of senators who complained that they are being asked to vote on the Iran nuclear deal without being privy to verification documents separately negotiated by the UN’s International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.
“That is absolutely astounding,” said Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Iran, he said, has a “clear record of cheating.”
Kerry said there is no side deal or secret agreements between Iran and the IAEA. There are, however, technical documents that are standard practice and not released publicly.
“We are aware of what the basics of it are,” Kerry told the committee members. “It is standard procedure for 189 counties that have an agreement with the IAEA. … We don’t get that. It is not shared with the world, but we do get briefed on it.”
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