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Wisconsin Sen. Johnson Reacts To Tentative Iranian Nuclear Deal

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now for some reaction from Congress, I'm joined by Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Welcome to the program.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON: Good afternoon.

BLOCK: We heard President Obama today call this a historic deal, a good deal, in his words. It meets core objectives. He calls it robust; our best option by far. What's your take?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, obviously, it's not a complete deal. As you're previous guest was saying, it's an agreement in principle. We haven't seen the details. We're not going to see the details for many months. I've been reasonably vocal from the standpoint that I think this president lost the negotiation before they even started.

BLOCK: Lost the negotiation before it started.

JOHNSON: Yes. You go back to U.N. sanctions - the resolutions in 2006. They imposed sanctions and would only lift them upon the suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran. But we've ended this negotiation, relaxed some sanctions and then tacitly agreed that Iran has the right to enrich uranium. And now we're just quibbling over how many centrifuges are going to be allowed to continue to spin. And we'll have a disagreement and an argument from experts in terms of how close a breakout or how long a breakout period does Iran have. So, you know, from back in Oshkosh, Wis., before I ever got into this political realm, I've always been hearing presidents from both parties say that we simply cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. I agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu. This just - this agreement, as it seems to be laid out here, paves the way for Iran to become the nuclear power, if not immediately, after 15 years. I mean, there is - does seem to be a time limit to this thing. So again I have a hard time believing that this is going to be a deal that I think is going to be good for the region, for Israel or for the world.

BLOCK: Well, let me ask you what President Obama said today, Senator Johnson. He said to his skeptics he would put this question - do you really think that this deal is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East? He makes the point that even with the sanctions regime, Iran has not capitulated. In fact, its nuclear program has advanced. So why would this not be a better option?

JOHNSON: Well, the sanctions regime I think you can get credit for bringing Iran to the table, but by relaxing the sanctions, going down this path, acknowledging the right to enrich, we basically capitulated and gave Iran everything they wanted. So we've been in an incredibly weak negotiating position ever since these negotiations began. And so it isn't - from my standpoint, it's not, you know, the binary choice between a bad deal and war. I think you can try to get a better deal, but you would need to impose greater sanctions. But again, President Obama, that opportunity may have slipped by the path he's already taken us down. So he's put us in a worse position than we were at the start of these negotiations, and that's very unfortunate.

BLOCK: What about the inspections program that is laid out in this framework? It's considered unprecedented, according to the president, intrusive levels of inspection of Iran's nuclear facilities. You're not convinced by that.

JOHNSON: Well, I'm reminded by an official of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who basically stated that if Iran doesn't have an undeclared nuclear site at this point in time, it'd be the first time in 20 years. So again, I just don't trust the Iranians. You know, but here's my final point 'cause if President Obama thinks this is such a good deal, if he's so convinced with that, OK, well, you know, really put your convictions on the line and come before Congress. Come before the American people; make sure that the American people have a say through their elected representatives. Bring it before Congress for approval.

BLOCK: Well, you mention the American people - let me ask you about that. There's a Washington Post-ABC News poll that shows that by a nearly 2 to 1 margin Americans would support a deal that lifts sanctions in exchange for restrictions on Iran's nuclear program. So do you think your party - the Republican Party - is out of step with the majority of Americans on this issue?

JOHNSON: No. I would agree with a deal that was a good deal; that did work; that actually did restrict that. I'm not sure this is that deal. But I think the American people also strongly support Congress being given the information and that they would get a say through their elected representatives as to whether or not this is a good deal or not. I would recommend Senate ratification, but I think we could also talk about Congressional approval as well.

BLOCK: OK. Senator Johnson, thanks for being with us.

JOHNSON: Have a great day.

BLOCK: That's Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. We were talking about the framework deal announced today to limit Iran's nuclear program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.