U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin addressed members of the House last week, spelling out his concerns regarding President Barack Obama’s treaty negotiations with the Iranian Government. Mr. Zeldin warned that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action they have agreed upon is flimsy because Mr. Obama has not taken a more aggressive approach.
“You are the leader of the free world,” he said, speaking directly to the president. “Act like it.”
On Friday, however, Mr. Zeldin said he was pleased to learn that a Senate committee voted to give Congress the ability to vote on the potential nuclear deal after a June 30 negotiation deadline.
Last November, the European Union, Iran, and the P5+1—which represents five members of the UN Security Council, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany, created the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is meant to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
On April 2, the White House released a fact sheet detailing a framework for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which is still subject to change. The framework aims to reduce Iran’s uranium enrichment program and introduce an International Atomic Energy Agency inspections program, while at the same time allowing Iran to redesign and rebuild a research reactor based on an agreed upon design, which would not produce weapons grade plutonium needed for nuclear weapons. Relief from certain sanctions would be given to Iran only if Iran takes all the agreed upon steps, but U.S. sanctions for terrorism, human rights abuses and ballistic missiles would remain in place under the deal.
Mr. Zeldin said it was of the utmost importance that Congress be able to approve the deal this summer.
“The devil is going to be in the details,” he said on Friday. “Congress has an important role to play that the White House is now acknowledging more than ever. We have to review the details themselves to ensure that this is a good deal for the American people.”
From Mr. Zeldin’s view, Iran has not agreed to anything up to this point. Instead, its leadership is talking about “death to America,” according to Mr. Zeldin, and has a different perspective on the talks.
“One of the things that is clear to me was agreed to at the negotiating table weeks back,” he said. “Both sides were going to go back to their home countries and spin exactly where they were in the talks to whatever best serves their own domestic politics.”
Earlier this month, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hassan Rouhani took to his Twitter account and posted statements describing his distrust in the negotiations.
“I trust our negotiators, but I’m really worried as the other side is into lying and breaching promises; an example was [the] White House fact sheet,” he wrote.
Mr. Zeldin said Mr. Obama has also been hypocritical in his approach, excusing Iran’s leadership from threatening speech and being critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the lack of viability of his two-state solution to the on-going Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Still, the president has not taken a strong-arm approach to Iran, according to Mr. Zeldin.
“Iran is not negotiating in good faith and they smell American weakness and not American strength,” he said during his speech. “The Obama administration believes the only option is to cut a deal just to cut a deal. This president should instead, with strength and courage, as the leader of the free world, be bringing Iranians to their knees. That’s what strength looks like.”
The Iranian government is not one to mess with, according to Mr. Zeldin. Not only has Iran blown up mock USS warships and worked on intercontinental ballistic missiles, the government has “successfully worked to overthrow the government in Yemen and they are working with the Syrians to complicate our challenges in that country,” he said. “As you look around the map of the Middle East and elsewhere, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that Iran is literally the worst state sponsor of terrorism in the entire world.”
Not only is Mr. Zeldin concerned about the position a wrong move could take on the U.S., but about Israel’s position in the Middle East. He said a bad deal with Iran would be worse than no deal at all because it could more easily trigger a nuclear arms race.
“Other countries in the Middle East for their own protection will be forced to ramp up their efforts to pursue nuclear capabilities if a bad deal is struck between the U.S. and Iran,” he said. “There are other options, other than any deal or war. The economy is doing so poorly in Iran that we really have more leverage than the president is giving himself credit for, and it needs to be used as productively as possible.”
Negotiations are resuming this week.
Mr. Zeldin last Tuesday joined with a bipartisan group of Congressional representatives to introduce and sponsor the reauthorization of the World Trade Center Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001.
The health program and compensation fund pays for the treatment of 9/11 associated illnesses suffered by any person or a representative of a deceased person who suffered physical harm or was killed as a result of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, or as a result of the debris removal efforts that took place in the immediate aftermath.
The act was originally adopted in 2010 and is set to expire at the end of this year. The reauthorization would permanently renew the funding for these programs for years to come.
“We are losing first responders from September 11 all the time,” Mr. Zeldin said this week. “It is our duty to say ‘thank you’ by ensuring they have health care and other needs that will allow them to keep their heads above water and overcome, to the best of their ability, challenges they now face as a result.”