Republicans in Congress have been working to kill the Iran nuclear deal almost before it was even completed and in the past week, a new strategy has emerged. Under the agreement negotiated in advance with Congress, the president will be able to commit the United States to the deal unless Congress disapproves of the deal and overrides a presidential veto of the motion of disapproval.
To make that happen, the GOP needs two thirds of both houses of Congress to vote to override – a heavy lift considering that Republicans would need to convince 44 Democrats in the House and 13 Democrats (and Independents) in the Senate to go against the President.
The best hope for making that happen is to turn U.S. public opinion against the deal. The best way to do that is to create the impression that the arrangement with Iran includes some shady side-deals that are being kept hidden from the American people and their elected representatives.
As with most conspiracy theories, there’s a kernel of truth to the central claim.
In the course of negotiating the nuclear deal, the Iranian government and the International Atomic Energy Agency did indeed cut a pair of bilateral deals. One involves monitoring the country’s secretive Parchin military facility and another involves providing information to the IAEA about the Iran’s past nuclear activities.
The existence of these “side deals” has become a rallying point for opponents of the deal, and this week Congressional Republicans began circulating a letter to the administration suggesting that without giving Congress access to the details of those agreements, the administration will be violating its duty under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.
Specifically, the agreement requires the administration to provide Congress with all “annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings and any related agreements, whether entered into or implemented prior to the agreement or to be entered into or implemented in the future.”
The Iran agreement, the letter reminds the president, “is a matter of immense importance to the immediate and long-term security of the United States. Members of Congress have the right and the duty to review every relevant document, every term, and every word of this agreement in order to make an informed decision about whether or not it merits our support.”
The deals are indeed confidential, and that gets to the heart of what the IAEA is. The organization is structured as an independent agency that answers to the United Nations Security Council but is not a direct subsidiary of the U.N.
It’s an important distinction, because the IAEA frequently stands as the broker between countries that don’t particularly like each other, but want to come to some sort of agreement when it comes to nuclear weapons proliferation. Countries that might not be willing to disclose details about sensitive national security issues to a rival, are at least marginally more willing to deal with the IAEA – usually on the condition that details about sensitive issues unrelated to the agency’s verification regimes remain secret.
There is already considerable tension between the IAEA and Iran. As recently as last year, Iran raised strenuous objections to revelations about what it said was its “civilian nuclear program” to the media.
“This once again confirms Iran’s concern about the existence of spying at the IAEA,” said Reza Najafi, Iran’s ambassador to the agency, according to Iranian government news service Tasnim.
That appears to be the situation here. Iran evidently views its facility at Parchin important to national security, and while it is willing to allow access, it wants to limit knowledge of details about the facility that aren’t relevant to the nuclear deal.
The problem, at least as far as the U.S. Congress is concerned, is that a large number of lawmakers, principally but not exclusively Republicans, come to the discussion of the Iran deal with the assumption that Tehran is negotiating in bad faith. To them, any agreement to which they don’t have total access is a loophole designed to allow the government in Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons.
Whether the Iranian government did or did not try to deceive international negotiators isn’t something that anyone will be able to determine in the near future. But for Congressional Republicans, the goal over the next few weeks is to convince the American public that the risk is too great, and thereby push Democrats to defy President Obama when it comes to a vote on overriding his likely veto.
Read the original agreement with Iran here: