Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) says that while congressional deliberations over the early framework to curtail Iran’s nuke developments “certainly” have been marked by bruising partisanship, most lawmakers favor a negotiated settlement with Iran if possible.
As his committee prepared to meet Tuesday afternoon to vote on measures to assure Congress a role in reviewing any final agreement that would lift economic sanctions against Iran in return for its pledge to partially dismantle its nuclear program, Corker offered a relatively upbeat forecast of the outcome.
“The large mass majority of senators in the United States Senate want to look at this in a sober and thoughtful manner on behalf of their constituents, and assure them that if we relieve these sanctions that have taken years to put in place” that Iran would live up to its end of the bargain, Corker told Chris Matthews of MSNBC Monday evening.
Corker and Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, have been working closely to craft a bipartisan bill acceptable to lawmakers and the White House. It would grant Congress the right to review the final agreement due June 30.
The compromise will shorten the time Congress would have to review a final nuclear deal with Iran from 60 days to 52, The Hill reported. However, President Obama would have to submit the final agreement to Congress by July 9 to qualify for this schedule. Congress would have 30 days to review the Iran agreement and pass a resolution of disapproval. Obama would then have 12 days to either sign or veto the resolution; Congress would have another 10 days to try to override the veto.
Every 90 days the administration must also certify that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the agreement in order to allow Congress to decide whether to reinstate the sanctions.
The White House said Obama would sign the bipartisan compromise legislation on Iran if it remains in its current form. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that while Obama is not “particularly thrilled” with the bill, he finds the latest draft more acceptable than earlier efforts.
“I hope the administration will look at it as a positive way for congressional review, but strengthening the administration’s hands in negotiations,” Sen. Ben Cardin said Tuesday. He is among a handful of prominent Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who want a bipartisan agreement to assure congressional overview.
But in a political atmosphere so poisoned that Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain (R-AZ) last week accused Secretary of State John Kerry of misleading Congress on the framework, a bipartisan consensus may be tough to reach. Forty-seven of the 54 Senate Republicans – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (AR) – recently sent a letter to Iran’s leaders warning them any agreement with Obama could be overturned by a future president or Congress.
Some Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee are preparing to offer poison-pill amendments that, if approved, would assure Obama would veto the legislation if it reached his desk. For instance, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a newly announced presidential candidate, will press for an amendment making any deal with Iran contingent on Tehran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
Global events are also conspiring against the administration’s ability to sell the nuclear non-proliferation agreement with Iran to skeptical members of Congress from both parties.
The latest: On Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the delivery of a sophisticated air defense missile system to Iran – a mischievous development that could further destabilize the power balance in the Middle East and pose an added threat to Israel. “It was a stab in the back,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), in describing how Putin’s decision has greatly complicated the administration’s ability to negotiate a final agreement with Iran.
Russia, which took part in the international negotiations in Switzerland that led to the tentative nuclear deal with Iran on April 2, has chosen now to remove five-year-old restrictions on shipping S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran.
Putin’s decision could not only undermine the Obama administration’s effort to sell Congress and foreign allies on the Iranian nuclear deal, The New York Times reported. It would make it much harder for the U.S. or Israel to mount airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities if negotiations collapse.
In short, Putin just made it a lot tougher for Obama to sell a nuclear deal to Congress that would lift long-standing economic sanctions against Iran. It would also enable them to generate billions of dollars when some revenues could go for purchasing a lethal missile-defense system.
Last week Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, further complicated the administration’s sales job. He disputed the U.S. government’s characterizations of two key provisions of the lifting of sanctions and the scope of the inspections of Iran’s nuke facilities.
Khamenei insisted all economic sanctions would have to be lifted on the day any final agreement is signed; Kerry and the administration insist sanctions would be gradually lifted to insure full compliance by Tehran. The ayatollah also said military sites would be off limits to foreign inspectors; that goes against the understanding by the U.S., Russia and other countries that took part in the lengthy nuclear talks.
While there was some speculation Khamenei’s remarks were designed mostly for domestic consumption to placate conservative factions opposed to the deal, he also gave McCain and other conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill more ammunition to attack the agreement.
“You’re going to find out they had never agreed to the things that John Kerry claimed that they had,” McCain told radio show host Hugh Hewitt last week. “I think John Kerry tried to come back and sell a bill of goods, hoping maybe the Iranians wouldn’t say much about it.”
Obama then issued a stringing rebuke to McCain during a press conference over the weekend in Panama City, where he’s attending the Summit of the Americas.
Corker acknowledged the political challenges. “Certainly there’s partisanship. We have some folks on our side of the aisle that, no matter what the president says, they’re going to be against it. We have some folks on the Democratic side that no matter what he says, they’re for it.” In the end, he added, “I think people understand the best thing for our country is a strong negotiated agreement.”
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