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U.S. Lawmakers Skeptical After “Antagonistic” Rouhani Speech

U.S. lawmakers have had a bit of time to evaluate last night’s speech by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. The speech was panned by analysts and journalists as “defiant” and “angry.” Reuters quotes Democratic Senator Robert Menendez as one of the many members of Congress who noticed as much:

Two senior Democrats – Senator Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – joined Republican lawmakers on Monday to call on Obama to stay tough on Iran. Menendez was unimpressed with the U.N. speech by Iran’s new president. “While I welcome the statement by President Rouhani that Iran is seeking a peaceful and diplomatic path, I was disappointed by the overwhelmingly antagonistic rhetoric that characterized his remarks,” he said.

On the House side the sentiment was not much different among top lawmakers. Reps. Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, respectively the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, published an opinion in the Los Angeles Times noting that Rouhani and his foreign minister Javad Zarif haven’t actually signaled their willingness to make any concrete concessions:

If we get to this point, Rouhani must bring something new and meaningful to the table. Until now, the Iranian negotiators have offered minimal nuclear concessions in exchange for maximum financial and oil sanctions relief. Since his election, the only nuclear-related action taken by Rouhani has been to announce that his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, a veteran Iranian diplomat known to many in the West, will represent the country in upcoming nuclear negotiations. It remains to be seen though how much authority Zarif will have. And neither Zarif nor Rouhani has shown a willingness to commit to a freeze in Iran’s nuclear program, as called for in successive U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The points echo consistent calls being heard from the House and the Senate, and by members from both sides of the aisle, for meaningful and verifiable concessions from Iran.

Lawmakers have stressed that Iran will be expected to – per previous statements by Engel – “give up its nuclear program, give up its enrichment, give up its weapons-making capability.” Meeting those obligations will require Tehran to stop all existing uranium enrichment and plutonium-related heavy water activity, halt the installation of new uranium and plutonium-related technology, remove its stockpile of enriched uranium from Iran, and open up the country’s Parchin military facility. where it is widely believed Iran carried out work related to developing nuclear warheads – to inspectors.

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