Tulsa World: In Sapulpa: U.S. Sen. James Lankford cautious on Iran agreement

By: Randy Krehbiel

U.S. Sen. James Lankford said Thursday that he will wait for details before passing judgment on the Obama administration’s nuclear arms agreement with Iran but said, “If it’s to the left of the U.N., that’s probably a problem.”

Lankford was one of 47 U.S. senators who signed a letter sent last month to Iranian leaders cautioning against putting much faith in a deal with the Obama administration.

Thursday evening, speaking to about 20 people at a community forum at Sapulpa City Hall, Lankford sounded skeptical that the administration would agree to something he will find acceptable.

“I’ve had serious issues with the negotiations,” Lankford said. “I’ve voiced those in every way I possibly could. We’ve pushed every way we possibly could.”

Lankford said he is “not a person who pursues boots on the ground in combat zones” but does not believe that the administration has been firm enough in its dealings with Iran, Israel and the Middle East as a whole.

“President Obama and I disagree on policy with Israel,” Lankford said. “He seems to say, … ‘We want peace, but we want to act like Switzerland. We’re going to be a neutral party to everyone.’ I think that’s negotiating from weakness. The way to negotiate is to say, ‘We’re the United States of America, and Israel is our ally.’ ”

Relations between the administration and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have so deteriorated that Obama recently told Netanyahu the United States might have to rethink its position on certain issues.

This came after Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress against Obama’s wishes and in an interview said he as prime minister would not permit a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu quickly backed off that statement.

Conservatives and some liberals charge that Obama has not taken seriously enough warnings from Israel and others that Iran is capable of producing nuclear weapons. Public reports vary widely on the Iranians’ capabilities.

“I’m in favor of dealing with Iran and dealing with the nuclear issue,” Lankford said, “but I’m not in favor of a bad deal. We do need to resolve this.”

Lankford spoke with some optimism on the prospects of a budget agreement in the near future and a return to a normal appropriations process beginning in June. Partisan conflicts all but shut down the legislative process during the last four years.

Also touched on were immigration, American Indian issues, and conflicts between religion and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Lankford and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz are sponsoring legislation that would repeal a District of Columbia ordinance adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy. Lankford said he does not believe that churches and private schools should be required to hire people who violate those institutions’ religious codes.

On Thursday, Lankford also said he believes that a controversial Indiana religious freedom bill is unnecessary.

“The First Amendment is enough,” he said.

“The vast majority of Americans believe you don’t discriminate. You don’t. We honor each other. We don’t all see life the same way. We don’t. We’re Americans.”

But, Lankford said, he does not believe that individuals should be forced to violate their faith.

“We need to be clear and communicate this to each other — that this is a First Amendment right,” he said.