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WASHINGTON — President Obama urged Congress on Sunday to support an agreement between Iran and world powers that would ease sanctions temporarily while curbing parts of Tehran’s nuclear program.
The President called lawmakers to build support for the deal and to ward off any movement in Congress toward tougher sanctions against Iran.
Many lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, voiced skepticism.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the accord does not proportionately reduce Iran’s nuclear program for the economic relief Tehran is receiving.
“Until Iran has verifiably terminated its illicit nuclear program, we should vigorously enforce existing sanctions,” he said. “I do not believe we should further reduce our sanctions nor abstain from preparations to impose new sanctions on Iran should the talks fail.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) said the deal “shows other rogue states that wish to go nuclear that you can obfuscate, cheat, and lie for a decade, and eventually the United States will tire and drop key demands.”
Mr. Obama also tried to reassure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.
The two leaders spoke by phone and reaffirmed the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
“Consistent with our commitment to consult closely with our Israeli friends, the President told the prime minister that he wants the United States and Israel to begin consultations immediately regarding our effort to negotiate a comprehensive solution,” Mr. Earnest said.
“The President underscored that the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions,” he said.
Speaking on three Sunday news shows, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the nuclear pact, rejecting comparisons to North Korea and insisting that the deal would make Israel and Persian Gulf allies more secure, not less so.
Mr. Kerry said the deal, signed early Sunday in Geneva, would lock in place nuclear activities that bring Iran closer to having a bomb and subject its nuclear facilities to unprecedented global inspections.
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“From this day, for the next six months, Israel is in fact safer than it was,” he said on the CNN program State of the Union. “We’re now going to expand the time by which they can break out, rather than narrow it.”
Mr. Kerry agreed that Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the region had a right to be skeptical of Iran’s intentions. But he said the United States and its negotiating partners had taken steps to address that by insisting on strict monitoring and verifications.
“You don’t trust,” he said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “It’s not based on trust. It’s based on verification. It’s based on your ability to know what is happening.”
In Congress, members of both parties argued that it should have taken a harder line against Iran’s ability to enrich uranium.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN that the agreement gave a “dangerous” nation an out from sanctions that were just starting to show results.
“The only thing that has changed is that you have now given them a permission slip to continue enrichment,” he said.
Not all lawmakers criticized the deal.
“By any standard, this agreement is a giant step forward and should not be undermined by additional sanctions at this time,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) requested that the White House provide a briefing for his members. “The interim deal has been and will continue to be met with healthy skepticism and hard questions, not just of the Iranians, but of ourselves and our allies. ...,” he said.
The White House indicated that Mr. Obama does not need congressional approval to proceed.
It appeared, however, that Iran was interpreting key parts of the six-month deal differently. Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has asserted that the pact explicitly recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium. He also said it effectively removed the threat of a U.S. military strike.
On CBS, however, Mr. Kerry said that the President has not taken that threat off the table. And administration officials reaffirmed Saturday night that the United States has not recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
No noticeable opposition has surfaced in Iran, though a few lawmakers sought more clarification.
Both Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, and President Hassan Rouhani say they back the deal.