Lawmakers riled over Obama’s plans on Iran deal

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) says that the administration is preparing to make a weak deal in nuclear negotiations with Iran. Photo courtesy of House of Representatives
U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) says that the administration is preparing to make a weak deal in nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Photo courtesy of House of Representatives

Key lawmakers expressed frustration about media reports that President Barack Obama will try to avoid a congressional vote on a final agreement between Iran and P5+1 nations involved in negotiating the future of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) wrote in a press release Monday evening that he sees the news as yet another sign that the administration is preparing a weak deal with the Iranians that would not meet the expectations of members of Congress and the Senate and one that would fail “to protect the vital national security interests of the United States and our allies.”

“In July, I led a bipartisan letter to the president – signed by over 340 Members of Congress – calling for ‘greater consultation with Congress on a potential sanctions relief package that may be part of a final agreement.’ That extensive engagement hasn’t come, even as the administration is considering such hugely consequential national security decisions,” Royce wrote, highlighting his belief that Congress’ tough sanctions were responsible for bringing the Iranian regime to the negotiating table.

Royce mentioned the promise made by Secretary of State John Kerry at a congressional hearing earlier this year, where he said that the administration is obligated under the law to have the negotiations’ resulting deal pass congressional “muster.”

The lawmaker’s concern arose from an article in The New York Times Monday, which reported senior administration officials saying that the Obama administration has made up its mind to avoid Congress at the conclusion of a final deal meant to stall the development of Iran’s military nuclear program. The article also mentioned an undisclosed Treasury Department report analyzing presidential powers regarding the suspension of current economic sanctions toward Iran. The report states that the president has the power to temporarily suspend sanctions without consulting Congress, but that congressional approval would be required to make sanctions relief permanent.

In the Senate, Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has been one of the most outspoken proponents of congressional oversight and additional sanctions against Iran, wrote in a brief online statement that “[b]y threatening to cut out Congress from the Iran nuclear deal, the administration is actually uniting Congress. We will not support an Obama-Khamenei deal that condemns our children to a future where the Middle East is full of nuclear weapons.”

Late last year, Kirk, along with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), attempted to pass a bipartisan bill that would have threatened to increase sanctions on Iran if it failed to meet its obligations during the negotiation’s time frame. The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 (S. 1881), stalled after White House pressure kept Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from adding the bill to the Senate calendar so it could receive a vote on the floor.

“If a potential deal does not substantially and effectively dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, I expect Congress will respond. An agreement cannot allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear state,” Menendez said last weekend, according to NYT.

Even if the Menendez-Kirk bill had made it through Congress, President Obama made clear in his State of the Union address that he would veto it.

Today’s news came as P5+1 negotiators rush to reach some kind of agreement before a Nov. 24 deadline to avoid another embarrassing extension, such as when the talks were previously extended temporarily after failing to meet the original July 20 deadline.

Another obstacle to a final deal came earlier this month when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – which is tasked with ensuring Iran’s compliance in dismantling its military nuclear program – reported that Iran missed its Aug. 25 deadline to provide agency inspectors with critical answers about its research into explosive testing and neutron calculations, which are essential to nuclear weapons production.

According to Reuters, IAEA’s most recent report – which had not been made public by press time – indicated that Iran met its most recent deadlines by diluting more of its enriched uranium stockpile. This followed weeks of obstruction, including a follow-up meeting between Iranian officials and IAEA inspectors in Tehran on Oct. 7-8, which did not produce any results, and a mysterious explosion at the Military Research Complex at Parchin, about 30 miles east of Tehran. n

[email protected] @dmitriyshapiro contributed to this story.

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