WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama pressed Congress Sunday to support an agreement between Iran and world powers that would temporarily ease sanctions while curbing parts of Tehran's nuclear program. Many members, including some senior members of his own party, reacted with skepticism.
The White House says it does not need approval from Congress to go ahead with the deal announced in Geneva. Still, Obama called unidentified lawmakers Sunday, building on calls he started Saturday. He not only sought support. He also worked to ward off any movement in Congress toward tougher sanctions against Iran at the moment he was arguing for a temporary easing in exchange for concessions from Iran.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that 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. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., warned that the "disproportionality of this agreement" makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join and pass additional sanctions when the Democratic-controlled Senate returns in December. "I intend to discuss that possibility with my colleagues," he said.
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."
Some Democrats, and even Republicans, support the agreement.
"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., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"This is a very important first step toward the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. "Under this interim agreement, Iran must halt or scale back parts of its nuclear program while we pursue a comprehensive deal. If Iran cheats, it will face even stiffer sanctions."
In the House, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., asked Secretary of State John Kerry to appear before the committee.
"I have serious concerns that this agreement does not meet the standards necessary to protect the United States and our allies," Royce said in a written statement. "Instead of rolling back Iran's program, Tehran would be able to keep the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability. Yet we are the ones doing the dismantling -- relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years."
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 involved in the negotiations," Boehner said.
The House voted for new sanctions against Tehran in July, a measure that has not been taken up in the Senate.