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Senate Republicans Raise Concerns About Lifting Iran Economic Sanctions


Top administration officials defended the Iranian nuclear agreement on Capitol Hill today. They also acknowledged that Iran remains a threat. Republicans on the Armed Services Committee are skeptical about the agreement. They worry that lifting economic sanctions would allow Iran to rearm and increase its support of terrorism in the region. Here's NPR's Tom Bowman.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Defense Secretary Ash Carter called the Iranian agreement a good deal because, he says, it prevents the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But Secretary Carter also said Iran was on par with the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIL.


ASH CARTER: The Middle East remains important to America's national interests. And as a result, the Department of Defense is committed to confronting the region's two principal security challenges - Iran and ISIL.

BOWMAN: Carter and other officials said Iran sponsors terrorist groups, threatens Israel and unleashes cyberattacks. That led Republicans to say, one after another, that Iran is at least untrustworthy and at worst evil. Here's Arizona Senator John McCain.


JOHN MCCAIN: Do you, Secretary Carter, believe that Iran will change its behavior if this agreement is finalized? And have you seen any indication of that?

CARTER: I don't foresee that or have any reason to foresee that. That is why it's important that the agreement be verifiable. That's why it's important that Iran not have a nuclear weapon.

BOWMAN: Carter said that the U.S. will maintain strong military options should Iran violate the agreement and try to build a nuclear weapon. And he said American spying activities would keep an eye on Iran. Democrats generally defended the agreement as something better than going to war with Iran. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island put that question to General Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman.


JACK REED: What is more effective in delaying or stopping the Iranian nuclear program at this time or in the near future, a military strike or this agreement?

MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, first, senator, I'd like to point out that the military options remain.

REED: Right.

DEMPSEY: Secondly, I think that a negotiated settlement provides a more durable near - and reduces near-term risk, which buys time to work with regional partners.

BOWMAN: Regional partners like Israel, which opposes the agreement, and Saudi Arabia, which just got State Department approval to buy $5 billion worth of American-made missiles. Earlier this month, just before the Iran agreement was reached, Gen. Dempsey said he was worried about Iran eventually buying missiles from other countries. Now, as part of the nuclear deal with the U.S., a 2007 U.N. arms embargo will be lifted. The agreement says Iran could begin buying ballistic missiles eight years from now. Gen. Dempsey was asked about that today by Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.


KELLY AYOTTE: So was it your military recommendation that we not agree to lifting of those sanctions?

DEMPSEY: Yes. And I used the phrase as long as possible. And then that was the point at which the negotiation continued. But yes, that was my military advice.

BOWMAN: Secretary of State John Kerry said he hoped the U.S. could still prevent Iran from obtaining ballistic missiles. And he tried to ease the skepticism by turning the focus back to nuclear weapons.


JOHN KERRY: And we're stopping that. We're taking that away from them and providing a lifetime...

MCCAIN: Senator, time has expired.

KERRY: ...Inspection.

BOWMAN: Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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