WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama blasted opponents of the Iran nuclear deal Wednesday, saying none of the criticism stands up to scrutiny and if Congress blocks the accord, the U.S. will be on a glide path to war.
“The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some form of war,” Obama said at American University in Washington. “Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”
Obama’s speech was part of an intense summer lobbying campaign by both supporters and opponents of the nuclear deal. Congress’ September vote on the international accord to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in economic sanctions relief is one of the most crucial national security decisions lawmakers will make since the 2002 vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq.
A news guide to the pact:
GOP REJECTS CLAIM THAT A NO VOTE ON DEAL IS YES VOTE FOR WAR
On Capitol Hill, Republicans remained skeptical and some took issue with Obama’s decision to frame the decision as being for the agreement or being for war.
“I think everyone in the United States know that this president is not going to carry out military action against Iran. Iran knows that!” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
While Republicans bristle at the idea of portraying them as for another war in the Middle East, Sen. Tom Cotton has suggested that the U.S. military has the ability to bomb Iran’s nuclear program back to “day zero.”
According to the Times of Israel, Cotton told Israeli reporters: “Can we eliminate it forever? No, because any advanced industrialized country can develop nuclear weapons in four to seven years, from zero. But we can set them back to day zero.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut accused Cotton of cheerleading for a military engagement with Iran. He said Cotton is oversimplifying the effect of military action, adding, “You can’t destruct knowledge” and “the consequences to the region would be catastrophic.”
TOP INTERNATIONAL NUCLEAR INSPECTOR VISITS CONGRESS
Despite harsh criticism from GOP senators, the head of the U.N’s International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that he cannot give Congress a copy of the organization’s nuclear inspection document with Iran.
Republicans have criticized the Obama administration, saying Congress has not been given access to the document, which they say is needed to decide whether to vote to approve the deal.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, who met with senators, said he has a legal obligation to keep the document confidential.
“Imagine if a country provides me with confidential information … and I do not honor the commitment, no country will share information with us,” Amano told reporters after the meeting.
“That is the case with the United States, too,” he said. “We have a confidential agreement with the United States, and I cannot share it.”
Earlier at a Senate Banking Committee hearing, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said the U.S. does not have the document, but she offered to tell senators in a classified briefing later in the day what she knows about the separate document between Iran and nuclear inspectors that is part of the nuclear accord negotiated with Tehran.
Congress is engaged in a 60-day review of the historic deal and has until Sept. 17 to vote on a resolution either approving or disapproving the pact.
Six weeks from a September vote, House Republicans formally introduced a resolution of disapproval Tuesday. The GOP has said it has the 218 votes for the resolution.
Congress returns from its August break on Sept. 8, and the Republican-led House and Senate are expected to vote for a resolution of disapproval and send it to Obama.
The president will have 12 days to veto the measure, as he has promised. The House and Senate then would have 10 days to vote on overriding a veto.
HOW TO SUSTAIN A VETO
Only one chamber of Congress is needed to sustain a veto. In either the 434-member House or the 100-member Senate, that would be one-third plus one of those voting.
The White House expressed confidence that Obama’s veto would be sustained in the House, though the administration was still pressing its case with lawmakers.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, announced his support Wednesday, saying there is “no credible path to a better deal if the sanctions get weaker and Iran’s nuclear program gets stronger. The agreement has flaws, but the prospect that a better deal would result from congressional rejection seems like pure fantasy to me.” Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Angus King, I-Maine, also backed the deal.
Democratic Reps. Mike Thompson of California, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin also announced their support.
Lobbying for votes is intense and many Jewish members of Congress are being targeted because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the deal with Iran, which has threatened to destroy the Jewish state.
A group backed by the pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs Committee launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign criticizing the deal.
Another pro-Israel group, J Street, on Tuesday launched a television ad campaign as part of its $5 million effort to rally support for the deal.
Peace groups and scores of other organizations are weighing in as well.
This story deletes an earlier description of Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona approving of the deal. Flake says he is undecided.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.