WASHINGTON — A general agreement announced Thursday by the United States and other world powers to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons was sharply criticized by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has emerged as a leading critic of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy strategies.

WASHINGTON — A general agreement announced Thursday by the United States and other world powers to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons was sharply criticized by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has emerged as a leading critic of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy strategies.


"There is no nuclear deal or framework with Iran; there is only a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons," Cotton said in a press statement.


The freshman senator has insisted that the Obama administration was too eager to strike any deal with Iran rather than force a hard bargain that would ensure Iran would never be able to obtain a nuclear weapon. He has appeared recently on multiple national cable news programs to criticize the negotiations.


The United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany have been negotiating for 18 months on an agreement that would ensure Iran’s nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes in exchange for lifting sanctions that have crippled its economy. The two sides have now reached a general agreement and hope to hammer out the details by June 30.


"We have achieved the framework for that deal. And it is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives. This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon," Obama said from the Rose Garden. "Iran will face strict limitations on its program, and Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history. So this deal is not based on trust, it’s based on unprecedented verification."


Under the basic outline, Obama said, Iran will not develop weapons-grade plutonium, the core of its reactor at Arak would be dismantled and replaced, and spent fuel from the facility would be shipped to another country. Iran also agreed to reduce its centrifuges by two-thirds, to no longer enrich uranium at its Fordow facility and not to enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years.


Iran has also agreed to allow international inspectors unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but also to the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program — from uranium mills that provide the raw materials, to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.


"If Iran cheats, the world will know it," Obama said.


In return for Iran’s actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions that will be phased in as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal.


"If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place. Meanwhile, other American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program will continue to be fully enforced," Obama said.


Cotton offered a contrary view of the deal, listing off concessions that will allow Iran to maintain the capability of producing a nuclear weapon.


"Iran will keep a stockpile of enriched uranium and thousands of centrifuges — including centrifuges at a fortified, underground military bunker at Fordow," he said. "Iran will also modernize its plutonium reactor at Arak. Iran won’t have to disclose the past military dimensions of its nuclear program, despite longstanding U.N. demands. In addition, Iran will get massive sanctions relief up front, making potential ‘snap-back’ sanctions for inevitable Iranian violations virtually impossible."


Under such terms, Cotton said, Iran would be poised to achieve a nuclear breakout in just a few months and, in any case, would be able to develop a bomb when the terms of the agreement expire in 10 or 15 years.


"I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to protect America from this very dangerous proposal and to stop a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region," Cotton said.


Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, offered a similarly harsh criticism of the agreement with Iran.


"This deal is the furthest thing from a deal. What the president has done is appease a nation that is bent on destruction of one of America’s closest allies," he said. "Any deal that allows Iran to continue enrichment activities is not a deal our country can afford to make."


Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, were skeptical of the agreement.


"What little that has been made public reinforces the concern that the Obama administration gave up on efforts to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program in hopes of merely containing it," Boozman said. "The heavy reliance on placing trust in the regime in Tehran — which has never been forthcoming about the true extent of its nuclear program, actively supports terrorism and works diligently to destabilize the region — does not lend much hope for an agreement of this nature working."


Hill said he is skeptical of any deal struck with Iran but has not had a chance to review the deal that has been outlined.


"I want to see what happens between now and June 30," he said.


The White House is hoping Congress will delay taking any actions that could undermine the deal. The Senate, however, will likely move forward with legislation requiring Senate approval of any Iran nuclear deal.


Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has set an April 14 vote on his bill and has no plans of delaying that vote.


"If a final agreement is reached, the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure the deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and hold the regime accountable. Rather than bypass Congress and head straight to the U.N. Security Council as planned, the administration first should seek the input of the American people," Corker said.


Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he would urge his colleagues to allow negotiators to proceed without taking any actions that could jeopardize the discussions — intentionally or not. He also said that critics of the framework have a responsibility to present a "serious, credible alternative" that would achieve a nuclear-free Iran in a way that does not require another war in the Middle East.


Cotton has said that the negotiations should start anew — after the United States imposes additional sanctions on Iran — so that the United States could negotiate from a stronger position and force Iran to end its nuclear program entirely.