WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday told skeptical lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the recently negotiated accord with Iran is the only chance to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, and that failure to enact the agreement would isolate the United States internationally.
“If the U.S., after laboriously negotiating this multilateral agreement with five other partners, were to walk away from those partners, we’re on our own” Mr. Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
A Congressional rejection of the accord, Mr. Kerry said, would amount to “a great big green light for Iran to double the pace of its uranium enrichment, proceed full speed ahead with a heavy water reactor, install new and more efficient centrifuges, and do it all without the unprecedented inspection and transparency measures that we have secured.”
“Everything we have prevented would then start taking place,” he said.
Mr. Kerry’s testimony, along with the testimony of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, came as the Iran deal architects made their first public appearance before lawmakers since the accord was announced last week.
Mr. Kerry entered the hearing room on crutches — he broke his leg in a bike accident in May — to a round of applause from activists from Code Pink, the antiwar group.
While the hearing was supposed to be the beginning of a 60-day review period, it quickly devolved into a contentious partisan spat. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Foreign Relations Committee’s chairman, accused Mr. Kerry of having been “fleeced.” Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, said he had been “bamboozled.”
Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, jumped to Mr. Kerry’s defense, saying Republicans had been “disrespectful and insulting.” Their accusation, she said to Mr. Kerry, goes to the secretary of state’s “core as a human being and your intelligence, and I think you are very intelligent.”
Under Congressional legislation, the administration submitted the accord to lawmakers for the 60-day review. President Obama has said he will veto any Congressional move to disapprove the accord.
Mr. Corker said that he was “fairly depressed” by the confidential briefing lawmakers received on Wednesday on the terms of the accord, and that administration officials had engaged in “hyperbole” by saying the choice was “between this deal and war.”
Far from blocking Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, Mr. Corker noted, the accord would enable Iran to expand its nuclear enrichment capabilities after the first decade.
“I believe we have been fleeced,” he said.
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, said the agreement was stronger in some respects than the framework accord the negotiators drafted in Lausanne, Switzerland, in April.
“Our negotiators got an awful lot,” he said.