WASHINGTON -- Ten members of Congress who have accessed the most sensitive information about Iran's nuclear program believe the recent deal to cap that program will work -- and want their colleagues who are still on the fence to look at classified information to understand why.
In a letter published Thursday, ten current and former members of the House Intelligence Committee -- all Democrats -- urged other members of Congress to visit a secure facility in the House and read the U.S. intelligence community's classified assessment of the deal. That assessment, the members write, makes it clear that it will be "nearly impossible for Iran to develop a covert [uranium] enrichment effort without detection" under the agreement.
"Our work on the Intelligence Committee and the insights it has given us into Iran's nuclear program -- past and present -- as well as the confidence it gives us that this agreement cuts off Iran's access to the bomb, have been significant drivers behind our decision to support the deal," the letter notes. "We hope you will take advantage of the Intelligence Community's assessment as you make your decision."
The letter also addresses a major target of deal opponents: a separate deal struck between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency to probe whether Iran previously attempted to build nuclear weapons. Many lawmakers have criticized that agreement, to which the U.S. is not privy. But Thursday's letter says skeptics should remember that the U.S. has significant intelligence of its own about Iran's past activities, which should assuage worries that the U.S. will have to rely on IAEA inspectors for this information.
Intelligence officials both in the U.S. and in Israel -- whose government is a major critic of the agreement -- appear to agree that the deal moves the international community closer to the goal of preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon. The classified assessment by U.S. intelligence says this is because officials will have access to more information about Iran's nuclear activities than ever before, according to officials familiar with the assessment who spoke with the Associated Press. The assessment presents that sanguine view while assuming that Iran will attempt to cheat on the agreement, which officially binds Tehran to serious inspections for 15 years.
That's a key theme for proponents of the deal: They say it is designed to be especially intrusive because it is based not on blind faith in Iran, but, to the contrary, on an awareness that Iran has been deceitful in the past and could mislead the international community again.
"In the future, as in the past," the ten lawmakers write, "we will all need to work together to make sure Iran is never permitted access to the world’s most devastating weapon."
The letter comes close to the halfway point of a 60-day congressional review period for the nuclear agreement. The Republican-dominated Congress is likely to pass a resolution of disapproval against the deal in mid-September. President Barack Obama plans to veto the disapproval in order to preserve the agreement, which the the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Russia and China cobbled together with Iran over the course of more than a year.
Obama needs one-third of either the House or the Senate to stand with him to prevent the veto from being overturned. For now, the House seems like a relatively sure bet. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who signed Thursday's letter, supports the agreement and holds significant influence on her party. Other key members have also publicly announced that they favor the deal, including House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a prominent Jewish voice in Congress and a signatory of the letter, and Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), the chief advocate for four Americans who are presently trapped in Iran.
As of Thursday afternoon, the White House could also count on 19 Democrats in the Senate to oppose the resolution of disapproval. In the upper chamber, the deal will need 34 supporters to sustain a veto.
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