In a show of bipartisanship, on Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed the Iran Nuclear Amendment Review Act of 2015, ensuring that the President will have to submit any final agreement with Iran for congressional review. The bill, sponsored by Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-TN), and former Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ), gives Congress up to a 30-day period to review any final agreement reached with Iran. During this period in which Congress decides to approve, disapprove the agreement, or take no action, the President is prohibited from waiving statutory sanctions against Iran. Just a few hours before the legislation was passed in committee, the White House reversed its position and indicated that they would sign the bill. Previously the administration insisted that they would veto it. During the hearing, Senator Corker stated “I think the reason the administration in the last two hours has chosen the path that they're now taking, is the number of Senators that they realized were going to support this legislation." The unanimous vote on the legislation reflects widespread public opinion: 72% of respondents in a USA Today poll released today stated that Congress should have a role in any final deal with Iran.
The vote in favor of the bill is largely a rebuke to the Obama administration’s handling of the negotiations with Iran. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as nuclear experts have been concerned about the extent of the concessions the Obama administration has made to Iran in negotiations in the past few weeks and months including allowing the underground enrichment facility Fordow to remain open, permitting Iran to continue centrifuge R&D, and enabling the Iranian regime to continue putting off full disclosure of its weaponization efforts until after sanctions are lifted. Leading scientists including former Deputy Director General of the IAEA Olli Heinonen and founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) David Albright have critiqued weaknesses of the framework deal and asserted that it may not achieve a one year breakout, the Obama administration’s stated goal of the negotiations. Furthermore, the understandings that were agreed to earlier this month between the P5+1 and Iran were called into question when the Iranian regime issued inflammatory statements and a factsheet that stand in stark contradiction to the parameters released by the White House.
During the hearing today, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) noted that the stakes in reaching a strong nuclear agreement are high: it determines whether there will be a “dramatic escalation of nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East.” Markey’s comments echo those of former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz who warned that the emerging deal may have detrimental consequences because “the passions of the region allied with weapons of mass destruction may impel deepening American involvement.”
The Iran Task Force, a "group of former government officials and nuclear, legal, and sanctions experts" issued a statement today supporting a "decisive" role for Congress in affirming any nuclear deal with Iran agreed to by the White House.
We support bipartisan efforts to give Congress a decisive role in the evaluation of any nuclear deal with Iran.
Any nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran is destined to affect regional stability and global non-proliferation norms for decades to come, for good or ill. It would be of tremendous importance to U.S. national security. Congress played a critical role in developing the sanctions that made the negotiations possible, and it should have a decisive say on any deal and sanctions relief to follow.
Congress should have adequate time to review any nuclear deal with Iran. During a 60-day review period, the Executive Branch should be required to refrain from suspending, waiving, or otherwise reducing statutory sanctions on Iran.
U.S. foreign policy is strengthened when backed by broad consensus including both the Executive Branch and Congress. Congressional consent would strengthen, not weaken, the durability of a deal with Iran. However, if Congress finds a proposed deal inadequate, it should have the opportunity to prevent any action that would undermine the sanctions architecture that it has worked to establish.