The most hotly anticipated congressional hearing since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s January 2013 testimony on Benghazi took place this morning on Capitol Hill.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee alongside Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to make the Obama administration’s case for the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.
The hearing showed, as if more evidence were needed, that Washington’s war party is nothing if not ecumenical. Not content with setting its sights on Putin’s Russia and Assad’s Syria, it is now taking aim at the recently concluded Joint Plan of Action with the Islamic Republic of Iran which, among other things, strips Iran of 98 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile and removes two-thirds of its centrifuges.
Prior to the deal, as Kerry and Moniz pointedly noted in The Washington Post yesterday, Iran “had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle, had constructed a covert uranium enrichment facility inside a mountain” and “was on its way to installing nearly 20,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment.”
Still on crutches from his bicycle accident in May, Kerry entered the hearing to loud applause and shouts of “Thank you, John Kerry” from a lively contingent from Code Pink. Yet that would be about all the praise Kerry would receive for the remainder of the day.
In his testimony this morning, Kerry noted that by the time the talks resumed in earnest two years ago, Iran already had “enough fissile material to build 10 to 12 bombs.” Kerry testified that the goal of the negotiations was to dismantle Iran’s ability to pursue a nuclear weapon, not to dismantle its entire nuclear program. And for good reason. Iran, a signatory the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty since 1968, has every right to pursue a nuclear energy program under international law.
Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) began the hearing by launching into an extended list of grievances, among them that the administration brought the deal to the United Nations prior to gaining congressional approval; that the briefing he received last night was “inadequate”; that he believes the deal codifies the industrialization of Iran’s nuclear program; and that the West “loses all leverage” over Iran once sanctions are removed in nine months.
Some observers had been holding out hope that Corker might emerge as a moderate and try to lend support to the agreement. The redoubtable Elizabeth Drew, writing recently in The New York Review of Books, observed that Corker “seemingly wants to play the part of the responsible statesman, following in the footsteps of, say, Richard Lugar.”