House Majority Leader Eric Cantor leveled sharp criticism today at the Obama administration for its handling of the Iranian nuclear talks, declaring in an interview: “Our strategy with Iran should be distrust and verify.”
“I think the policy is very naïve,” Cantor told ABC News. “To try and go strike a deal for a deal’s sake could jeopardize U.S. security interests.”
With fresh negotiations underway in Geneva between the United States and five other world powers, Cantor raised skepticism of an emerging deal that calls for relaxing economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran agreeing to halt the development of its nuclear program.
Cantor, a Virginia Republican, also said the Obama administration had not spoken out forcefully enough to condemn the comments of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who described Israel as “the rabid dog of the region.”
“The information that I'm hearing out of Geneva is very startling to me,” Cantor said, particularly noting the supreme leader’s comments about Israel.
“These are not views that we would think America would share, obviously,” Cantor said. “They don't call him the supreme leader for nothing. He is the supreme leader. These are the people that you are dealing with and I think that this president and the administration should be going into these negotiations with open eyes and I'm worried right now of all of the indications I'm getting to the contrary.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, who may return to Geneva if the negotiators appear close to reaching an accord, downplayed the criticism.
“We need to stay away from the invective right now,” Kerry told reporters. “We need to engage in serious conversation, delicate time and we all need to respect that.”
While the White House asked Congress to hold off on new sanctions toward Iran, skepticism on Capitol Hill is high over the prospect of reaching a deal over freezing the Iranian nuclear program. Cantor and other House Republicans supported new sanctions against Iran this summer, but the Senate has not followed suit.
Cantor, the highest-ranking Republican Jewish leader in Congress, was unsparing in his condemnation of the Obama administration’s handling of the Iranian talks. He said he was “very, very concerned” the United States was rushing toward a deal, without taking into account the objections of Israel.
“I add to my concern the lack of leadership in terms of foreign policy that this administration has been about, especially in the Middle East,” Cantor said. “What we've seen now is our allies are indicating that they no longer trust us and our adversaries are indicating that they no longer fear us.”
Asked whether the tone of his criticism – notable, given the ongoing negotiations in Geneva – could undermine the administration’s position, Cantor said: “Our system of our governance leaves room for debate.”
“We need to make sure that pressure stays,” Cantor said. “Iran has never in the history of this regime demonstrated a willingness to work with the international community.”
ABC News' Mary-Rose Abraham and Henry Gretzinger contributed to this episode.