They are rivals on the campaign trail, but Republican presidential challengers Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz joined forces Wednesday at a rally denouncing the Iran nuclear deal being debated by the US Congress.
Thousands of people converged on the West Lawn of the Capitol to hear the two Republican powerhouses and to protest President Barack Obama's landmark accord with Iran, saying the international agreement could spell the death knell for Israel and threaten the lives of millions of Americans.
Trump, the billionaire real estate tycoon and Republican frontrunner, blasted the "incompetently negotiated" deal and criticized Obama's administration for failing to include the return of four Americans held in Iran as part of the negotiations.
"If I win the presidency, I guarantee you that those four prisoners are back in our country before I ever take office," Trump boomed, to raucous applause.
"We are a country that owes $19 trillion.... We lose everywhere," he added, departing from the Iran rhetoric to repeat his claims that as a world-class negotiator he would get America back on a winning track.
"We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning," he said.
Cruz also received a hero's welcome from the crowd, which included the grass roots Tea Party movement that helped propel Cruz to victory in his 2012 Senate race.
"If you vote to send billions of dollars to jihadists who have pledged to murder Americans, then you bear direct responsibility for the murders carried out with the dollars you have given them," Cruz said, referring to frozen funds that would return to Iran when sanctions are lifted.
"You can not wash your hands of that blood."
The July deal struck with Iran by the United States and other world powers provides Tehran relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
Republicans complain the deal does not do away with the program altogether, fails to provide for spot inspections of nuclear sites or force Iran to end support for militant groups like Hamas.
- Trump-Cruz 'bromance' -
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Cruz is in the middle of the pack in the race for the Republican nomination. He is one of the few GOP candidates who has refrained from attacking Trump, who routinely antagonizes rival Jeb Bush and has angered Hispanics with his immigration rhetoric.
When Cruz finished his address, he embraced Trump on stage, highlighting a Republican "bromance" that Trump himself acknowledged.
"It is a little bit of a romance," Trump told CNN after his address.
When Trump criticized US immigration policy, "Ted Cruz was out there, and he really backed me very strongly," the tycoon said. "I always respected that."
Despite the heated opposition outside the US Capitol and ongoing debate inside, the Iran deal has sufficient support to go ahead.
Forty-two Senate Democrats are in favor, more than enough to block a resolution of disapproval against the deal in the 100-member Senate. All Republicans stand opposed.
A revolt by House conservatives seeking tougher action forced the Republican leadership to abandon its plan Wednesday to vote on the resolution of disapproval.
Instead it will pressure Obama over his failure to provide texts of what critics call secret "side-deals" to the agreement.
According to lawmakers emerging from a caucus meeting, the House will undertake a three-pronged approach: a resolution of approval; a "sense of the House" that Obama violated the law requiring all documents be presented to Congress before the 60-day review period began; and a resolution preventing the lifting of sanctions.
Lawmakers said that because they recognized Congress is unlikely to block the deal through legislation, an effort was developing to sue the president for violating the Iran nuclear review law.
"We're faced with an option of trying to preserve a legal challenge for the future -- at least try to get something out of this vote series," conservative Republican Matt Salmon told AFP.
"We're just looking for any way that we can to derail this agreement," added congressman Chris Stewart.
Republican aides said the House votes are expected by Friday.