Inhofe: Obama ‘Naive,’ but Winning, on Iran

After the president’s veto threat in State of the Union, a top Republican says sanctions momentum may be fading.

Sen. James Inhofe
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
Jan. 29, 2014, 11:27 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama used his State of the Uni­on ad­dress Tues­day to threaten a veto of any con­gres­sion­al plan to slap Ir­an with new sanc­tions, and he just might have got­ten his way.

The top Re­pub­lic­an on the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee thinks Obama is “na­ive” to be­lieve the U.S. is hav­ing any “great suc­cess” in per­suad­ing Ir­an to curb parts of its nuc­le­ar pro­gram — but he is not op­tim­ist­ic there’s enough mo­mentum in the Sen­ate, all told, to ram through new sanc­tions against the wishes of the pres­id­ent.

“[Obama] said last night he would veto any [new sanc­tions],” Sen. Jim In­hofe said in an in­ter­view. “The ques­tion is, is there sup­port to over­ride a veto on that? I say, ‘No.’ “

The Nuc­le­ar Weapon Free Ir­an Act, au­thored by two sen­at­ors, Illinois Re­pub­lic­an Mark Kirk and New Jer­sey Demo­crat Robert Men­en­dez, has 59 co­spon­sors, and in­cludes meas­ures to pun­ish Ir­an’s oil in­dustry if it breaches dip­lo­mat­ic com­mit­ments. In­hofe does not be­lieve a vote now would res­ult in the ma­jor­ity ne­ces­sary to over­ride a pres­id­en­tial veto, be­cause enough Demo­crats would still side with their pres­id­ent.

Even some of the Sen­ate bill’s Demo­crat­ic co­spon­sors, in­clud­ing Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia and Chris­toph­er Coons of Delaware, have also backed away from the sanc­tions bill since Obama’s speech, The Hill re­por­ted.

In his ad­dress Tues­day night, Obama de­fen­ded the in­ter­im deal, which he said “has hal­ted the pro­gress of Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram—and rolled parts of that pro­gram back—for the very first time in a dec­ade.” Ir­an has star­ted elim­in­at­ing its stock­pile of high­er levels of en­riched urani­um, Obama said, and is no longer in­stalling ad­vanced cent­ri­fuges. If dip­lomacy fails, then all op­tions—pre­sum­ably even mil­it­ary force—re­main on the table, Obama prom­ised. “I will be the first to call for more sanc­tions, and stand ready to ex­er­cise all op­tions to make sure Ir­an does not build a nuc­le­ar weapon.”

In­hofe, though, isn’t buy­ing it. New Ir­a­ni­an Pres­id­ent Has­san Rouh­ani is not to be trus­ted; in­spec­tions won’t be enough, he said. “They,” In­hofe said, re­fer­ring to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, “seem to think, for some reas­on, that this new pres­id­ent is a pres­id­ent they can talk to, and ne­go­ti­ate with”¦. This guy, I don’t think we can trust him more than any­body else, [even former Pres­id­ent Mah­moud] Ah­mad­ine­jad.”

Even though the mo­mentum may be slip­ping, In­hofe said, Demo­crats loy­al to Obama are quickly be­com­ing “en­dangered spe­cies.” So if talks between world powers and Ir­an fall apart, or new rev­el­a­tions emerge that Ir­an is break­ing its dip­lo­mat­ic com­mit­ments, it’s pos­sible the polit­ic­al winds could shift.

For now, though, Obama may be in the clear.

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this story misid­en­ti­fied Sen. Men­en­dez’s party; he is a Demo­crat.

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