The Cable

John Kerry's Iran Briefing Succeeds ... in Solidifying GOP Against Him

In an effort to slam the brakes on a new round of Iran sanctions coming through Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry held a classified briefing with the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday. Although the purpose of the briefing was to convey how new sanctions could derail the delicate negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, Republicans stormed out of the closed-door session in opposition to the Obama administration's message. At the same time, top Democrats remained silent or refused to comment as they exited the Capitol.

"It was solely an emotional appeal," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told reporters after the briefing. "I am stunned that in a classified setting, when you're trying to talk with the very folks that would be originating legislation relative to sanctions, there would be such a lack of specificity."

"Today is the day in which I witnessed the future of nuclear war in the Middle East," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), a staunch Iran hawk. "This administration, like Neville Chamberlain, is yielding large and bloody conflict in the Middle East involving Iranian nuclear weapons." Kirk added that he felt the briefing was "anti-Israeli."

The vituperative GOP response was matched by relative silence by exiting Democrats.

"I'm not gonna comment," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

"No comment," said Tim Johnson (D-SD), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) declined to answer questions about sanctions as he ascended a congressional escalator. 

"Was this a helpful briefing?" asked The Cable.

"Yes. Very helpful," said Reid.

When asked how so, Reid did not elaborate.

A bright spot for the administration did emerge in the form of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) who told The Cable that Kerry's arguments were convincing. "I support Secretary Kerry's explanation of what direction and what needs to be done here and I support his intentions," he said.

On the Hill, Kerry was joined by Vice President Joe Biden and the State Department's chief nuclear weapons negotiator Wendy Sherman. Kerry told reporters ahead of the briefing that passing new sanctions in the Senate risked jeopardizing the talks in Geneva set to resume next week.

"Our hope is that no new sanctions would be put in place for the simple reason that, if they are, it could be viewed as bad faith by the people we are negotiating with," Kerry said. "It could destroy the ability to be able to get agreement and it could actually wind up setting us back in dialogue that's taken 30 years to achieve."

The Senate Banking Committee is looking at a bill passed by the House of Representatives designed to choke off remaining oil sales in Iran. Other lawmakers have recommended adding new sanctions to the National Defense Authorization Act under consideration in the Senate.

Though the call for a pause in sanctions is receiving a chilly reception in Congress, it does have the support of influential circles of ex-diplomats and national security experts.

"Additional sanctions are unnecessary and could put us in a more difficult spot," Bob Einhorn, who recently left the State Department as its Iran arms control envoy, told The Cable. "It would play into the arguments of Iranian hardliners that the U.S. isn't interested in a nuclear deal. It would also have the broader international impact of portraying us in a less reasonable light than the Iranians and thereby eroding support for sanctions."

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