Graham Presses for Administration’s Iran Endgame

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks as Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) (L) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) (R) listen during a news conference on Capitol Hill December 10, 2009 in Washington, DC. The legislators held a news conference to discuss climate change. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
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Stacy Kaper
Nov. 12, 2013, 4:04 p.m.

When Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry comes to Cap­it­ol Hill on Wed­nes­day to ask law­makers to hold off on ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions against Ir­an, he is likely to face tough ques­tions about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­dgame in its ne­go­ti­ations with Tehran.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., told re­port­ers Tues­day that there is prob­ably a split among Demo­crats about how to pro­ceed, but Re­pub­lic­ans largely fa­vor en­act­ing ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions against Ir­an.

Law­makers have been gear­ing up for an an­ti­cip­ated de­bate on Ir­an sanc­tions when the Sen­ate takes up the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act. The bill could come up later this week. Kerry is due to brief mem­bers of the Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee, which has jur­is­dic­tion over Ir­an sanc­tions, and mem­bers of lead­er­ship, all be­hind closed doors.

As sen­at­ors look to prep pos­sible amend­ments on Ir­an, Gra­ham de­scribed him­self as “sort of in the middle,” pre­fer­ring to see ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions with waivers move ahead in the Bank­ing Com­mit­tee rather than on the Sen­ate floor.

Gra­ham does not serve on the Bank­ing Com­mit­tee, but is an in­flu­en­tial de­fense hawk in the GOP. He is ex­pec­ted to be a ma­jor play­er in the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion battle. “I un­der­stand what they are telling us about des­troy­ing a chance for a peace­ful out­come here by new sanc­tions,” he said. “But I really do be­lieve that if sanc­tions are craf­ted in the right way, where if the Ir­a­ni­ans did the things we want them to do, that would be more help­ful than harm­ful.”

Gra­ham said he ul­ti­mately ex­pects to see some tar­geted sanc­tions mov­ing ahead.

“There is a healthy skep­ti­cism in the Con­gress that this is re­peat­ing the North Korean mod­el and that the Con­gress be­lieves that more sanc­tions with waivers is prob­ably the best way to get an agree­ment we could all live with, versus back­ing off at this point,” he said.

In the mean­time, Gra­ham said that the ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to con­vince Re­pub­lic­ans that it has an achiev­able en­dgame in its ne­go­ti­ations with Tehran. “Here’s the real is­sue: How does this end?” he asked rhet­or­ic­ally.

Gra­ham said he is look­ing for four spe­cif­ic as­sur­ances from Kerry: Ir­an does not need a heavy-wa­ter re­act­or to be pro­du­cing plutoni­um for peace­ful pur­poses; all of the 20-per­cent-en­riched urani­um needs to be taken out of Ir­an; Ir­an should not con­trol the fuel cycle of any com­mer­cial re­act­or; and Ir­an should not have en­rich­ment cap­ab­il­it­ies.

“I don’t mind the Ir­a­ni­ans hav­ing a com­mer­cial nuc­le­ar pro­gram. I really don’t. I just mind them hav­ing en­rich­ment cap­ab­il­it­ies,” he said.

On a sep­ar­ate na­tion­al se­cur­ity mat­ter, Gra­ham made pos­it­ive re­marks about Jeh John­son’s pro­spects of be­ing con­firmed for Home­land Se­cur­ity sec­ret­ary. John­son test­i­fies be­fore the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee for his con­firm­a­tion hear­ing Wed­nes­day.

“He’s a good choice. I like Jeh,” Gra­ham said. “My prob­lems are in­ter­view­ing the five State De­part­ment wit­nesses [on Benghazi]. But Jeh John­son I think is a good choice. I worked with him when he was gen­er­al coun­sel for [the De­fense De­part­ment]. I found him very know­ledge­able — a very de­cent fel­low.”

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