Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is confident that the administration will have the votes to sustain any veto of a hard-won international deal with Iran that eases sanctions in return for nuclear inspections.
During a question-and-answer session Wednesday with reporters, Lew defended the deal reached earlier this month with Iran and other major powers such as Russia, China and the European Union. He said lawmakers, for the most part, have been listening to his argument.
When asked how many votes the Obama administration can count on to sustain any veto threatened by Republican lawmakers in September meant to overturn the deal, Lew said “enough for this to be sustained.”
Many Republicans have threatened to pass new sanctions against Iran, which would potentially undermine the spirit of the agreement. Lew said the administration retains “enormous authorities” should Iran be viewed to be backsliding on the deal.
“It’s not that we lack tools to respond,” Lew said at a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, reminding of what led to the deal. “Sanctions did a lot of damage to Iran’s economy. I believe it brought them to the bargaining table.”
The deal struck with Tehran seeks to impose limits on Iran’s nuclear energy programs with an eye towards ensuring it is incapable of developing nuclear weapons. The deal envisions what European allies and the United States call the toughest inspection system ever designed by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency. Financial sanctions would be lifted in staggered progression as Iran complied with parts of the deal.
Some critics have suggested the deal amounts to a “signing bonus” that allows oil-rich Iran to quickly return to international markets. Lew pushed back on that view, noting that Iran will be allowed to access $55 billion in assets frozen abroad, a sum that won’t all be brought home since Iran will need to maintain reserves abroad to financial international trade.
Before Iran can produce significant amounts of oil and natural gas again, Lew said, it will need investment in the sector within a range of $100 billion to $200 billion. That’s a big chunk of change, especially during a period of unusually low global energy prices and surplus production.
This is not going to change the shape of Iran’s resources for good or bad purposes.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on Iran’s access to frozen assets.
In all, Iran has more than $500 billion in pressing obligations, he said, an assertion he made a day earlier in congressional testimony that pointed to unpaid wages, debt obligations, payments to China and infrastructure that all cry out for government spending.
On another matter, Lew did not signal concern over recent volatility in China’s two major stock exchanges but did acknowledge it could influence the pace of ongoing reforms that would move China away from a centralized state-driven economy.
“They are managing the process and balancing economic theory with what pace of change can be implemented,” the treasury secretary observed, adding that tough decisions requiring “resolve” remain. “There’s a risk that if they wait too long they’ll have missed some of that opportunity.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the administration was confident it could override any veto of the Iran deal. It should have said to sustain any veto attempt on the Iran deal.