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McConnell Skeptical of Iran Deal After Leading Freshmen on Middle East Trip

McConnell and several freshmen senators meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan. (Courtesy Royal Hashemite Court)

Fresh off a trip to the Middle East, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reaffirmed Monday afternoon that his chamber would weigh in legislatively regarding the framework agreement between the United States, Iran and other nations involved in the negotiations.  

"Last week I led a Senate delegation to Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Iran’s support of Hezbollah, the Assad regime, Shia militias in Iraq, Houthi insurgents in Yemen — along with its ongoing nuclear ambitions — reveal an ongoing effort to both expand the Iranian sphere of influence throughout the greater Middle East and undermine America’s standing and presence in the region," McConnell said in a statement. "These issues, along with Iran’s determination to expand its ballistic missile and conventional military capability, are of grave concern to me; moreover, the concerns of our allies and partners were raised throughout our visits."  

McConnell highlighted next week's expected advancement through the Foreign Relations Committee of legislation introduced by Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that would provide for a congressional approval process for a final agreement with Iran. And while McConnell said the Senate would review what's presented by the Obama administration, his first take was decidedly negative.  

"In initially reviewing the parameters of the interim agreement, several things are obvious: Iran will continue to enrich uranium and retain more than 6,000 centrifuges, and continue the research and development of more advanced centrifuges. Under no terms should the administration suspend sanctions, nor should the United Nations remove sanctions until the Iranians reveal all aspects of the Possible Military Dimensions of its previous research," McConnell said.  

"The parameters of the interim deal, in essence, establish an internationally recognized, 10-year nuclear research and development program. Until we know more about Iran's previous research, no nation can be sure of what Iran may have developed covertly already. The choice is not between recognizing Iran as a threshold nuclear state or going to war," McConnell added. "Instead the administration should have made clear to the Iranians that additional sanctions and a credible military threat awaited further delay and intransigence."  

As indicated by his statement, the Kentucky Republican had spent the last week serving as a bit of a tour guide, leading a group of freshman Republican senators around the Middle East.  

It's a regular tradition for McConnell to bring new members of his conference on such a trip.  

"We continue to live in a dangerous world, and what we saw on the ground reinforces that we face both symmetric and asymmetric threats," said Sen. David Perdue, a freshman senator from Georgia who participated in the delegation trip. "ISIS has brought chaos and violence to an already troubled part of the world, and we have a lot of work to do if we are to extinguish their ambition of harming Americans and our allies. We must find decisive ways to destroy ISIS, and to ensure that terrorism of any kind does not reach our shores.  

"While we have made significant progress in Afghanistan, it is important that we continue to review the suggested military withdrawal plan to give our troops enough time to effectively train the Afghan forces and avoid making the same mistakes of the past, which created a vacuum for ISIS and other terrorist groups to ascend to power in the region," Perdue added. "Further, the current framework that was negotiated with Iran seems to pave the way for this rogue regime to develop a nuclear weapons capability. I am gravely concerned about the terms of the sunset, which will allow Iran to continue to conduct research and develop dangerous centrifuges down the road. In the coming weeks, we will ensure there is appropriate Congressional oversight of any final agreement."  

According to list circulated by North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis' office, this year's trip also included Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Steve Daines of Montana and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.  

"It was a privilege to visit with American servicemembers stationed abroad and meet with leaders from Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan," Tillis said in a statement. "I was also grateful for the opportunity to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the long-standing friendship between our two nations and the need to work together to stop Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability."  

For senators such as Tillis, Perdue and Sasse, congressional delegation trips to the Middle East to meet with foreign leaders and U.S. service members overseas are new, having been elected to the Senate last November from backgrounds outside of Washington. The other new senators previously served in the House of Representatives.  

In addition to Netanyahu, delegation members reported meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan and the top political leadership in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  

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