Secretary of State John Kerry testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday that the U.S. government will not be revealing to the American people the contents of “secret side deals” made with Iran on its nuclear enrichment program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, a unit of the United Nations, has negotiated two side deals with Iran involving critical data collection processes.
Astonishingly, Kerry himself said Wednesday that he has not read the agreements but has been “briefed” on their contents.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wanted to know why these deals can’t be made public.
“Why can’t we confirm or deny the content of these agreements in public?” Cotton asked in a Senate hearing. “Why is this classified? It’s not a sensitive U.S. government document. The Ayatollahs know what they agreed to.”
“Because we respect the process of the IAEA and we don’t have their authorization to reveal what is a confidential agreement between them and another country,” said Kerry.
Cotton said, “So the ayatollahs will know what they agreed to but not the American people?”
Watch the testy exchange between Sen. Cotton and Secretary of State Kerry:
Kerry said members of Congress would be able to learn about it in a classified briefing.
Kerry said he believes one staffer in his department may have read the agreement “at their facility” but didn’t possess a copy of it. “The IAEA is an independent entity under the United Nations, Senator, which I know you know.”
“I have received several classified briefings on the deal, and look forward to another one, but what Congress would like is the text of the deal,” Cotton said.
Cotton said reports by media, including the latest by the Associated Press, indicate that Iran will be allowed to collect its own samples and submit those samples to the IAEA, “much like an NFL player taking his own urine sample and sending it to Roger Goodell for a drug test. Can you confirm or deny that that is the content of those side deals?”
“I can’t here in this session,” Kerry responded.
Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz also said he was not aware if anyone in his agency has read the secret side agreements.
“I’m not sure. I don’t know. I’m not sure. I can ask. In terms of the technical team, maybe somebody saw something,” Moniz said.
Today’s testy exchanges in the Senate hearing come a day after similarly heated exchanges between Kerry and Rep. Scott Perry in the House.
Perry gave Kerry a public dress-down on the Iran deal, suggesting the secretary of state could have forged a better deal if he had only kept America’s interests as the top priority.
Perry said: “There is a history for … getting a better deal and if the ayatollah doesn’t like it and doesn’t want to negotiate it, oh boo hoo, we’re here for America, we stand for America. You represent America,” according to news video of the Capitol Hill committee meeting.
Kerry replied a bit tersely: “Congressman, I don’t need any lessons from you about who I represent. I represent and fought for our country since I was out of college.”
Perry cut in to say, “and God bless you for your service,” but Kerry’s temper was irked.
“So I don’t need any lessons from you about that, OK,” Kerry said. “Let me just make it crystal clear to you, this is America’s interest because America is the principle guarantor of security in the region. And particularly with respect to some of our closest friends. Now, we believe that Iran was marching toward a weapon or the capacity to have a weapon, and we’ve rolled that back. That’s indisputable.”
Perry cut in to disagree: “That’s your opinion, Mr. Secretary.”
“No,” Kerry said, “that’s a fact. That’s a fact.”
The Iranian deal forged largely at the pressing of America has been criticized as giving away too many U.S. interests. Specifically, the deal allows Iran to hold up inspections for a period of 24 days, something opponents of the pact say will give Tehran the ability to construct a nuclear weapon eventually.