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The Oklahoman: Oklahoma Republican Reps. Tom Cole, Steve Russell oppose proposed nuclear deal with Iran

April 4, 2015
News Stories

The Oklahoman - Chris Casteel

Rep. Tom Cole returned from the Middle East on Friday and said the Obama administration’s framework for a nuclear deal with Iran could set off an arms race in an already fragile region.

“It’s a region in turmoil, a very dangerous turmoil,” Cole, R-Moore, said in an interview. “The other countries aren’t going to sit there in the region and say, ‘Iran can develop (nuclear weapons), and we can’t.’”

Cole accompanied House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other senior Republicans on a weeklong trip to Britain, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

In Israel, the group met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just a month after his speech to a joint session of Congress warning against a nuclear deal with Iran.

Cole said Netanyahu was “nothing but respectful of the president of the United States, but he thinks he has a better understanding of the Iranian regime than the people negotiating” the nuclear deal.

The Israeli prime minister also feels strongly that he needs to speak out about his country’s position, Cole said.

Cole voiced many of the same criticisms as other Republicans — and some Democrats — of the nuclear deal, chief among them that Iran’s government couldn’t be trusted to stick to the terms.

“And I don’t have a lot of faith in this administration to make them do it,” Cole said.

Israel never publicly acknowledged having nuclear weapons, but Cole said the country has had them for decades. The reason Israel’s nukes did not ignite an arms race in the Middle East, he said, is that the other countries didn’t worry about Israel using them first.

Rep. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, issued a statement on the deal, saying, “Even if we could trust Iran with their desire for a nuclear weapon, which is hard to do, they are a known state sponsor of terrorism.”

If international sanctions were eased on Iran, Russell said, the relief likely would benefit only those in the country “who seek our destruction” and not the general populace.

Cole also said he is leery of any agreement that doesn’t require congressional approval. The Obama administration has said that the nuclear agreement could bypass Congress, but Cole said easing of U.S. sanctions would require a modification in law.

Cole said the president and administration officials should go to Capitol Hill and “start convincing people” if they think the deal is as good as they say.

“It’s not that people don’t want it to be historic,” Cole said. “They do.”

But lawmakers from both parties have a “fundamental lack of faith in the Iranians” and a “fundamental skepticism” that the administration would enforce any agreement, Cole said.

White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters Friday that there had been some “ratcheted-up rhetoric on the fringes, but I actually think that most of the response here we found reassuring. We have found that both Republicans and Democrats alike have shown a thoughtful response. They want to take a look at the details. That’s something that we appreciate.”

Online: The Oklahoman