Americans Skeptical As Kerry Defends Nuclear Agreement With Iran
Of those respondents in the Pew Research Center/USA TODAY poll who said they have heard about the agreement reached in Geneva last month, 62 percent said Iranian leaders are not serious about addressing international concerns about their country’s nuclear activities. Only 29 percent felt otherwise.
The deal reached between Iran and six world powers on Nov. 24 does not appear to have reduced Americans’ skepticism – in fact the proportion of respondents saying the Iranians are not serious about addressing concerns has increased slightly since the last time Pew asked the question, in early November, when 60 percent said they were serious and 33 percent said they were not.
Not surprisingly Republicans are most unconvinced – of those who have heard of the agreement 77 percent said the Iranians were not serious, compared to 14 percent who said they were.
But the poll found that doubts run deep among independents too (63 percent not serious, 29 percent serious), and even among Democrats – despite being far more inclined to approve of the deal overall – more are skeptical (49 percent) than otherwise (41 percent) about the Iranian leaders’ intentions.
More broadly, the poll found 43 percent of all respondents disapproved of the Geneva agreement, compared to 32 percent who didn’t. The remaining 25 percent gave no opinion, likely reflecting the sizable number of respondents who told Pew they had not heard about it. The partisan divide was clear – 58 percent of Republicans disapproved while 14 approved; 50 percent of Democrats approved and 27 percent disapproved.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes, but the U.S. and many other governments suspect it is a cover for developing a nuclear weapons capability – which experts say could be quickly achieved, once a decision is made to do so. Reports issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over the past decade have included a number citing evidence that Iran has carried out activities relevant to a nuclear weapons program.
The Geneva agreement offers Iran limited sanctions relief in exchange for limited curbs on its program. During a six-month interim stage the parties will try to reach a comprehensive deal. President Obama has acknowledged that deal could leave Iran with a “modest” uranium-enrichment program, argues it will be so tightly monitored as to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear weapons breakout capability.
Kerry will testify Tuesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday he would make the point that setting new sanctions in place would put at risk “the best chance we’ve had in a decade to achieve a peaceful outcome” to the Iran nuclear standoff.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), says he has “serious concerns” about the Geneva agreement.
“The deal does not roll back Iran’s nuclear program, but instead allows Tehran to keep in place the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability,” he said. “Under the agreement, the international community relieves the sanctions pressure on Iran while its centrifuges continue to enrich uranium.”
Royce and the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), co-authored new sanctions-tightening legislation which passed in the House by a 400-20 vote over the summer.
Although that measure has not advanced in the Senate, a measure is currently being prepared that would toughen existing sanctions, but would have a six-month delay and take effect only if negotiations fail.
The administration wants Congress to hold off on any new Iran sanctions legislation, even with a delayed action mechanism, arguing that such moves would show “bad faith.”
Deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes reiterated that stance on Monday, telling reporters traveling with Obama to Johannesburg that “sanctions during the course of the negotiations would be seriously counterproductive,” as they could fracture the unity among the six negotiating powers, strengthen “the more hardline elements” in Iran, and ultimately undermine the existing sanctions regime.
Iranian foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator Javad Zarif was blunter, telling Time magazine in an interview published Monday that if Congress imposes new sanctions, even with a delayed trigger, “the entire deal is dead.”