Colorado lawmakers divided on Iran

Patrick Kelly

U.S. lawmakers firmed up their positions on the Senate floor Thursday as Democrats successfully blocked a Republican resolution to reject a multi-nation agreement on the future of Iran’s nuclear programs.

Colorado’s Senators were split on the issue with Republican Cory Gardner staunchly opposing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran deal, and Democrat Michael Bennet aligning with the majority of his party to support the deal. Colorado’s Republican Rep. Scott Tipton voted against the deal in the House.

The attempt to put the deal to a vote fell two Senators short of the 60 required to break a filibuster. However, Gardner’s office confirmed a second attempt was being planned for Tuesday night in a continued effort to put the deal to a vote before the Sept. 17 deadline for action.

So what is the deal is all about?

The JCPOA is the product of nearly two years of negotiations between the P5+1, which consists of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.) plus Germany, and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The agreement offers to lift international sanctions — agreed to have crippled Iran’s economy and devalued its currency by both Bennet and Gardner — in exchange for reduction and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The International Atomic Energy Alliance, an international authority on peaceful development of nuclear technologies, would be the primary party responsible for verifying and monitoring Iran’s nuclear-related commitments.

As far as the merits of the deal, Gardner finds them as lacking as his trust in Iran.

“If it becomes a reality, it’s only a matter of time before Iran cheats,” he said in an interview with the Craig Daily Press on Friday.

Gardner said the JCPOA doesn’t meet President Barack Obama’s initial promise of ending Iran’s nuclear program and it unfreezes Iranian funds for state-sponsored terrorism.

“The lifting of the sanction will result in the immediate infusion of almost of almost one hundred billion dollars, which is 25 percent of their gross domestic product as it stands today,” Gardner said.

Dr. Nader Hashemi, director of the center for Middle East studies at the University of Denver, refuted Gardner’s argument, stating the actual dollar amount made available by the sanction relief, as evaluated by the U.S. Treasury Department, is closer to $50 billion — hardly enough to counter expected reactionary military investments in Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“Their level of military prowess is going to significantly increase as a result of the agreement and Iran’s is basically going to stay the same,” he said, emphasizing that Iran has been able to advance its interests in the region regardless of economic sanctions.

Of course, the sanction relief comes with a price for Iran.

Under the agreement, Iran must reduce its stockpile of uranium by 98 percent and refrain from enriching uranium above 3.67 percent, well below the enrichment level required for a nuclear weapon. Iran will also be required to reduce its centrifuges from nearly 20,000 to 6,104.

Iranian nuclear facilities will be subject to anytime, anywhere inspections under the agreement. If an undeclared site is discovered, Iran has up to 24 days to grant access for inspectors — an arrangement Gardner feels is insufficient.

“It is not anytime, anywhere — in fact, the deal says ‘kept to a minimum necessary,’” Gardner said.

On the contrary, Hashemi said nuclear experts from around the world agree that it would be impossible for Iran to hide any suspicious nuclear activity, due to the fact that remnants of nuclear activity are apparent far beyond 24 days.

Bennet, addressing the Senate on Thursday, said that despite flaws in the deal, it is the best way to keep Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

“The harsh reality is that, today, Iran stands on the threshold of a nuclear weapon. So we have to weigh the agreement against this set of facts,” he said.

Jo Ann Baxter, chair of Moffat County Democrats, said she trusts Bennet’s knowledge of the deal and supports his decision.

With 100 percent opposition from Republicans in the Senate, it is clear that the JCPOA has drawn bold lines between parties — leading some to believe the deal has more to do with domestic politics than international diplomacy.

“I think the opposition is primarily motivated by partisan politics, by people who want to advance their own personal careers over doing what’s best for the country and for the world,” Hashemi said.

Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or Follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.

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