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Facing fire from lawmakers, Kerry warns against rejecting Iran deal

There were testy exchanges and blunt talk in a Senate hearing on the Iran nuclear agreement. Republicans criticized the deal, and suggested that even if it passes Congress, it could be rolled back by the next administration. Secretary of State John Kerry fought back, saying that the consequences of rejection would be a "big green light" for Iran to increase uranium enrichment. Gwen Ifill reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    With nearly two months left for congressional review, the Obama administration came under fire today as it began its public push to sell the nuclear deal with Iran on Capitol Hill.

    SEN. BOB CORKER (R), Tennessee: Not unlike a hotel guest that leaves only with a hotel bathrobe on his back, I believe you have been fleeced.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There were testy exchanges, and blunt talk, as critics of the Iran nuclear agreement confronted Secretary of State John Kerry for the first time since the deal was struck last week.

  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker:

  • SEN. BOB CORKER:

    We began 20 months or so ago with a country that was a rogue nation that had a boot on its neck, and our goal was to dismantle their program. We have ended up in a situation where the deal that's on the table basically codifies the industrialization of their nuclear program.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But the committee's top Democrat, Maryland's Ben Cardin, who said he'd not yet made a decision on the agreement, said progress had been made.

    SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), Maryland: There were many rumors during these last couple months of what was going to be in this agreement and how it was going to be weakened from the April framework that in fact have been strengthened since the April framework.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    A 60-day period for Congress to approve or reject the deal began Monday. Corker said he might try to extend that review, which would curb Tehran's nuclear program, in return for easing sanctions.

    Florida Republican Marco Rubio, who's running for president, said even if the deal survives in Congress, it could well be rolled back in the next administration.

    SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), Presidential Candidate: The Iranian regime and the world should know this deal — this deal is your deal with Iran, I mean, yours and this administration. And the next president is under no legal or moral obligation to live up to it.

    The Iranian regime and the world should know that the majority of members of this Congress do not support this deal and that the deal could go away on the day President Obama leaves office.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Beyond Capitol Hill, the Obama administration also faces determined critics. An estimated 10,000 people rallied against the agreement in New York City last night. And special interest groups have taken to the airwaves.

  • NARRATOR:

    Congress should reject a bad deal. We need a better deal.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Today, Secretary Kerry fought back.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: Let me underscore, the alternative to the deal that we have reached is not what I have seen some ads on TV suggesting disingenuously. It isn't a — quote — "better deal," some sort of unicorn arrangement involving Iran's complete capitulation.

    That is a fantasy, plain and simple, and our own intelligence community will tell you that.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The consequences of congressional rejection, he said, would be grave.

  • JOHN KERRY:

    The result will be the United States of America walking away from every one of the restrictions that we have achieved, and a great big green light for Iran to double the pace of its uranium enrichment.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Kerry was joined by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who said walking away from the deal would pose a wider diplomatic problem.

  • JACK LEW, Treasury Secretary:

    If we change our terms now and insist that these countries escalate those sanctions and apply them to all of Iran's objectionable activities, they would balk, and we would be left with neither a nuclear deal nor effective sanctions.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But some, like Idaho Republican James Risch, doubted whether Iran would keep the promises it made.

    SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), Idaho: With all due respect, you guys have been bamboozled and the American people are going to pay for that.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Democrat Tom Udall pushed Moniz for a clarification on inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency called for in the deal.

  • ERNEST MONIZ, Energy Secretary:

    You will have all of the containment and surveillance for 20 years of all of the sensitive parts of every machine that they make.

    REP. TOM UDALL (D), New Mexico: And so people that have used the analogy that, like in a drug crime, you flush it down a toilet and it's gone and we won't be able to find it, that's in fact been proven out, has it?

  • ERNEST MONIZ:

    If they try that, we will find it.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Also at issue, agreements between the IAEA and Iran that would account for Iran's past military nuclear activities. Republicans have called these side deals, and demanded that the content of those agreements be shared with Congress.

    On his way out of the hearing, Kerry said they were standard arrangements.

  • JOHN KERRY:

    There are no side deals. The IAEA has a regular process.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In Iran, meanwhile, President Hassan Rouhani was also on a mission to sell the agreement, saying in a national TV address that it sends the message to the world that the most difficult and complex international issues can be resolved through negotiations.

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