Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he’ll use his subcommittee chairmanship to cut off U.S. financing for the International Atomic Energy Agency unless it provides Congress with copies of confidential agreements between the agency and Iran on the country’s nuclear program.
“Given anticipated legislative action on this controversial deal in the Senate next month, firsthand information on IAEA side agreements are vital to both the debate and decision making process for all members -- irrespective of their views of Iran or the merits of the deal,” Graham, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry released Thursday.
The South Carolina senator, who leads the Senate Appropriations panel that oversees contributions to the IAEA, said in the letter dated Aug. 11 that he plans to “condition and/or withhold” $88 million of U.S. funding to the United Nations agency in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 unless it provides the agreements.
The letter reflects efforts by opponents of a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers to find new types of leverage against the administration as Congress prepares to vote next month on whether to reject the deal.
‘Lot of Tools’
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio told reporters last month that a vote of disapproval remains “the best shot” at blocking the Iran deal, but he added, “There’s a lot of tools at our disposal.”
While the Republican-led U.S. Congress may have the votes to adopt a resolution of disapproval, opponents of the deal face a tougher challenge in rounding up enough Democratic support to override President Barack Obama’s promised veto of such action.
On Thursday, two Senate Democrats -- Al Franken of Minnesota and Jon Tester of Montana -- announced their support for the accord. Also on Thursday, three House Democrats -- Representatives Sam Farr of California, Jim Himes of Connecticut and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts -- announced that they back the deal.
One other House Democrat, Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida, announced he opposes the accord. So far, 42 of the House’s 188 Democrats have declared support for the deal, while 10 have said they oppose it.
Franken and Tester’s announcements bring to 19 the number of lawmakers in the Senate Democratic caucus supporting the deal, including two independents. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is the only Democrat in the chamber who has announced that he opposes the accord.
Republican lawmakers have demanded to see what they call “secret side deals” between Iran and the IAEA, whose inspectors would verify compliance with restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Obama administration officials have said such confidential agreements are standard procedure for international inspections.
“There are no secret side agreements,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Thursday in a webcast about the Iran deal that was hosted by Jewish advocacy groups.
The IAEA requires confidential pacts with each country it investigates to protect the agency’s independence, Moniz said.
‘Satisfied With Them’
While the documents aren’t public, “we know their contents,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice told reporters on July 22. “We’re satisfied with them. And we will share the contents of those briefings in full in classified session with the Congress.”
Graham helped lead the push for the legislation giving Congress a 60-day review of the accord, followed by an opportunity to vote on the agreement.
The law that Obama signed giving Congress the right to review the Iran accord says lawmakers must be given the agreement “including annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings, and any related agreements.”
Moniz also used his appearance on the 45-minute webcast to reject the argument by deal opponents who say keeping sanctions in place will bring Iran back to the negotiating table to offer more concessions.
“This is already the famous ‘better deal,’” Moniz said. “We have it in front of us.”
Any attempt now to abandon the accord and seek to negotiate better terms would be “about the riskiest strategy I can imagine,” he said. “We would lose the international unity.”
Other nations, including China and Russia, would no longer agree to abide by the agreement and international sanctions would erode, while Iran would feel free to pursue its nuclear program without restrictions, he said.
“We have a very strong agreement,” Moniz said in the webcast sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “I have not heard a credible Plan B.”