WASHINGTON — Just back from a whirlwind trip to the Middle East, Sen. Bob Corker said Friday he has no intention of sabotaging negotiations with Iran concerning the processing of nuclear materials but wants any deal to meet what he calls "baseline requirements."
Foremost among them, he said, is permanent cessation by Iran of all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.
"Our fear is a diplomatic deal that sweeps things under the rug and then this ugly problem raises its head again in a few years," the Tennessee Republican and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in an interview.
But Corker said he doubts Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will allow consideration of legislation along those lines, at least in the near future.
Although some lawmakers have called for Congress to pass additional sanctions against Iran, Corker said, "I think it is very unlikely that there will be a chance to vote on anything this month."
Not tough enough
Lawmakers from both parties remain concerned that an interim agreement with Iran reached on Nov. 23 does not exact enough concessions from the Middle Eastern nation.
They also believe time is short before Iran will have enough enriched material to make nuclear weapons.
The Obama administration, however, contends that the interim agreement, negotiated in Geneva, paves the way for a final deal with Iran within six months that would eliminate the threat of Iran ever acquiring nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Corker and other prominent senators, including Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, continue to question the interim agreement.
"They are still going to be enriching (uranium) with 19,000 centrifuges," Corker said.
While Corker spent the week traveling to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain, administration officials warned Congress against interfering with the talks by calling for new economic sanctions.
But many in Congress believe they can add to the Obama administration's bargaining power — and serve as a counterbalance to hardliners in Iran — by threatening additional sanctions.
If Congress is to have a significant impact on the negotiations, Corker said, it must act immediately. "The only chance Congress has to weigh in on this is now."
Corker introduced legislation Nov. 21 that lays out what he thinks should be the bottom line for any permanent deal with Iran.
"Congress must now reject any guarantee of enrichment, while ensuring the interim deal is strictly enforced and does not become the de facto final deal," his office said last week.
"Because the interim agreement provides Iran relief from current sanctions, not new sanctions, any Iran legislation must include provisions that restrict further sanctions relief and set the basic conditions for an appropriate final deal."