The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is citing what he says is Iran’s role in providing Hamas with the longer-range rockets it is firing into Israel as one more reason to proceed cautiously and set demands high before reaching a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program.
Rep. Ed Royce (R) of California says the Syrian-made M-302 rockets that are widely believed to have reached Hamas’s arsenal by way of surreptitious Iranian transport should serve as a reminder to the US and other world powers currently negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran that the government in Tehran can’t easily be trusted.
Saying the US has “had a lot of experience over the years with deception from the government of Iran,” Congressman Royce told reporters at a Monitor Breakfast Friday that the M-302 rockets “which Iran transferred to Hamas [serve as] a good reminder in terms of the nature of the regime.”
Shortly after Royce spoke, the House passed a resolution supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks. The resolution included an amendment authored by Royce calling attention to what it says is the destabilizing role Iran plays by providing Hamas and other organizations with the weapons now targeting Israeli population centers.
Tying in the rockets penetrating deeper into Israeli territory than in previous conflicts with ongoing nuclear talks that are about to enter crunch time in Vienna, the Foreign Affairs chairman said Iran’s actions cast doubt on any commitments it might make to the international community.
Royce said world powers have to take into account Iran’s proliferation activities – which he said have continued despite United Nations Security Council resolutions barring Iranian arms trading, and in violation of “norms of international conduct.”
“The failure of the government in Iran to adjust its behavior … gives us pause on how much seriousness they’re putting into these [nuclear] negotiations,” he said.
Under an interim agreement that six world powers reached with Iran last November on limiting its nuclear program, negotiations on a comprehensive agreement are to conclude by July 20.
With little more than a week to go to that deadline and with signs growing that little progress is being made, Secretary of State John Kerry is set to join the Vienna talks over the weekend – presumably to gauge prospects of a breakthrough and potentially to determine if an extension of negotiations is warranted.
The interim agreement reached between Iran and the US, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, allows for the talks to be extended for up to six months. But both Iran and the US have said they would prefer to reach a deal within the original six-month timeframe – Iran because it is anxious to secure the sanctions relief that would be part of a comprehensive deal, and the US in part because it wants to avoid the talks running into November elections.
The Obama administration is also concerned that a restive Congress would use a failure to conclude talks by July 20 to press ahead on new sanctions on Iran that Iranian officials say would spell the end of negotiations.
Royce did not express outright opposition to an extension. But the Foreign Affairs chairman said his assumption is that Iran would use additional months of talks as it has used rounds of nuclear negotiations in the past – to move forward on its nuclear program.
“My suspicion is that they will play for time,” he said.
He also confirmed that failed talks would indeed prompt a renewed push in Congress for additional sanctions. “Either we succeed in these negotiations or we move ahead” with more economic pressure on Iran, he said.
The House has already passed a new Iran sanctions bill by an overwhelming margin, but the administration was able to halt the legislation in the Senate to allow the talks to proceed.
One issue facing administration negotiators in Vienna is how to get a deal that Iran can accept but which also passes muster with Congress. Royce insists that the House is “open on this question of a deal,” but he says any agreement has to verifiably prohibit Iran from assembling the building blocks that would be necessary to make a rush to build a nuclear weapon, a process known as “breakout time.”
“At the end of the day this has to be a serious agreement that prevents undetectable nuclear breakout by the Iranian regime,” Royce says.
That sounds very similar to what the administration says any deal would have to accomplish. But Royce says his concern is that the administration’s “zeal for a deal” could prompt it to accept an accord that leaves Iran the leeway to hoodwink the international community.
And that’s where the current example of the long-range rockets flying into Israel serve as a reminder, Royce says. The rockets alone don’t signify that no nuclear deal should be reached, he says, but the presence of these new weapons does make considering Iran’s intentions all the more urgent.
“I don’t know that it changes our calculation” in negotiations with Iran, he says. But it raises the question. “Who is the enabler here for Hamas? The answer again is Iran.”