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Russia will help Iran build a second nuclear power plant, according to Tehran’s top nuclear official.
The head of Iran’s atomic energy organization announced the deal on Wednesday as lawmakers on Capitol Hill fought back against a White House bid to stop them from passing new sanctions on Iran.
“We hope to see the construction of the country’s second nuclear power station start” in March 2014 and be led “by the Russians,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, announced on Tuesday, according to state-run media reports.
Russia will head construction on the nuclear plant, which is one of just 34 potential new nuclear sites identified by Iran.
While Iran claims that the plants will be used to generate electricity, experts point out that they will also give the regime access to plutonium, which could be used to fuel a nuclear weapon.
Iran also has continued to enrich uranium, another nuclear powered fuel, while negotiations with Western nations drag on.
However, the White House continues to pressure lawmakers to hold off on passing a new round of sanctions, arguing that they would likely spark a war with Iran.
Democrats and Republicans balked at this assessment during a congressional hearing on Wednesday, saying that sanctions are the only way to rein in Tehran’s ongoing nuclear work.
“Sanctions have forced Iran to the table and we should build upon this success with additional measures,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.) said during a hearing to assess Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s first 100 days in office.
“The Iranian regime hasn’t paused its nuke program,” Royce said. “Why should we pause our sanctions efforts as the admin is pressuring Congress to do?”
Only a choice between “economic collapse and compromise” will push Iran to halt its nuclear work, Royce said.
Democrats on the committee expressed a similar view despite the White House’s claim that those who support new sanctions are pushing the United States into a war.
“We must make it crystal clear to Iran that even tougher sanctions are coming down the pike,” said Rep. Elliott Engel (D., N.Y.).
“I hope the administration understands that we cannot take their concerns fully into account … if they do not do a better job of keeping Congress informed and taking into account what congress thinks,” Engel said.
Sanctions are the tool that initially forced Iran to negotiate, said Rep. Ted Deutch (D., Fla.).
“It is the crushing economic sanctions that forced the Iranians to the bargaining table,” Deutch said.
Additional sanctions would only “strengthen our ability” to finalize a deal, said Deutch, criticizing those who would “suggest” otherwise.
Democrats on the committee agreed that sanctions have been the U.S. government’s greatest tool in reigning in Iran’s rogue behavior.
Sanctions are “one of the very few things our federal government is doing that works and one of the few things that’s bipartisan,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.). “We need to do more of it not less.”
Sherman slammed the reported details of a draft agreement proposed in Geneva last week that would have provided Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
“An interim deal is a bad deal,” Sherman said, explaining that Iran would get economic relief while the United States gets little in return. “What we get is at best a few months delay in when they have a nuke weapons program.”
“Fifty billion [dollars] for them [Iran] while they continue their plutonium enrichment plant at Arak seems like a bad idea,” he said. “It is time to declare Iran has no right to enrich.”
Former U.S. officials and experts who testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee warned that Iran is prolonging talks in order to elicit more concessions from the West.
The Geneva deal is “not likely to keep Iran from developing a nuke weapon,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
It would allow Iran to add “almost another bomb to its stocks” as negotiations drag on, he said.
As talks continue, a “sweeter set of incentives and fewer demands on Tehran” are being offered by the West, according to Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign an defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
“We are giving them the time to work on their program and the relief from the sanctions,” she said. “So we’re giving on both sides while gaining almost nothing.”