By James Morrison, special to Iran News Update
WASHINGTON — President Obama is expected to defend his nuclear deal with Iran when he addresses the American public in his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday, as a rebellious Congress grows suspicious of the pact to lift some sanctions on the regime in exchange for limited inspections of its nuclear program.
When Mr. Obama enters the House of Representatives at 9 p.m., he will face bipartisan opposition to the Iran deal. The Republican-led House last year passed a bill to increase sanctions on Iran. Support for a companion bill is growing in the Democrat-led Senate.
The White House is desperately trying to stop the Senate bill, which is quickly gathering enough supporters to override a presidential veto. The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican and a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
The Senate bill has 59 supporters, including 16 Democrats, and needs 8 more co-sponsors to reach a veto-proof majority,
The White House risks counting too much on party loyalty with statements from Obama officials who have accused supporters of increased sanction of leading a “march to war.” Defiant comments from leaders of the Iranian regime put additional pressure on Mr. Obama.
White House spokesman Jay Carney this week tried to dismiss statements from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who in the past has bragged about misleading Western negotiators in earlier talks over Iran’s nuclear program.
Mr. Rouhani told CNN that Iran rejects U.S. interpretations of a key element of the interim agreement, called the Joint Plan of Action, which was announced in November and went into effect Jan. 20.
“We are not dismantling any [nuclear] centrifuges. We are not dismantling any equipment.” he said. are not going to destroy any centrifuges.”
Mr. Carney called Mr. Rouhani’s comments “spin” for domestic political purposes.
” We’ve said before that we expected the Iranian government to spin the commitments they made under the Joint Plan of Action for their domestic political purposes. We saw that in November, we saw that earlier this month, and clearly we’re seeing it again” Mr. Carney said.
Opponents of the brutal Iranian regime fear the Obama administration and other Western powers thatsupport the deal are losing the clout developed through crippling economic sanctions.
“The West must not show any weakness, but force the mullahs to shut down all their nuclear sites once and for all,” Ali Safavi, the U.S. spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said Monday.
“One way to do so it to maintain the threat of even more sanctions, as a bipartisan Senate bill has proposed, and focus on the mullahs’ egregious human rights abuses inside Iran and nefarious meddling in neighboring countries.”
Mr. Safavi also warned the White House that even the limited lifting of sanctions could lead to broader moves as foreign investors begin looking at Iran’s oil wealth.
Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a similar warning last week when the deal took effect.
“The U.S. now begins suspending its sanctions against Iran in return for limited nuclear concessions. While the positive economic impact on Iran will go beyond this relief, as foreign investors are rushing in, our leverage over Iran sinks,” he said.
“Meanwhile, Iran’s nuclear program continues.”