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Story highlights

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, says the Iran deal will lead to nuclear armament

The freshman Republican thinks continued sanctions are a better path to preventing a nuclear Iran

(CNN) —  

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Thursday she believes the nuclear deal the U.S. and five other countries have brokered with Iran will not stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

“I see this as a pathway to nuclear armament, not getting rid of it,” said Ernst, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “These people are not our allies, they are not going to change overnight.”

Ernst pointed to the likely billions of dollars in sanctions relief that Iran will benefit from over the coming years as international sanctions, which have caused Iran’s economy to contract, are lifted.

The freshman senator also said she rejects the premise that the only alternative to the Iran deal is war, arguing that “we still have those diplomatic options.”

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But pressed on those diplomatic options, Ernst did not delve into specifics, simply suggesting that “our world leaders need to get together, they need to continue with those economic sanctions.”

And she added that military options should remain on the table as a “last resort.”

But while Ernst would like to see the U.S. rally the five other world powers who made the deal with Iran over nearly two years of negotiations to double down on economic sanctions, supporters of the deal say it’s unlikely the U.S. could muster the same international cooperation.

Iran’s economy has begun to recover in the last year despite continued sanctions and countries like Russia and China have been anxious to resume business with Iran as negotiations carried past deadline.

Ernst also slammed the U.S.’s decision to lift a U.N.-imposed arms embargo on Iran eight years into the deal. That embargo, though, was put in place as an additional measure to compel Iran to negotiate away its nuclear program.