In a State Department statement released on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that negotiators in the P5+1 talks in Geneva agreed to implement the Joint Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program starting Jan. 20. Despite this advance, Congress and Jewish organization are pushing forward Iran sanctions legislation with veto-proof support.
Calling it a “critical, significant step forward,” Kerry said the agreement will prevent Iranian advancement on its nuclear program, submit to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency and render the “entire stockpile of its 20 percent enriched uranium unusable for further enrichment.” This will be done during the six-month period agreed to previously in Geneva on Nov. 28.
In return, the U.S. and its partners will unfreeze $4.2 billion in Iranian assets in regular installments over the same period as part of fulfilling their sanctions relief promise in what Kerry says will be “limited and targeted.”
Meanwhile, negotiators will continue talks toward a final agreement, aiming to accomplish that by the end of the allotted period, with possible extensions. “As the United States has made clear many times, our absolute top priority in these negotiations is preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Kerry said in the statement. “We have been clear that diplomacy is our preferred path because other options carry much greater costs and risks and are less likely to provide a lasting solution.” the agreement was immediately countered by Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, on his organization’s website.
Pollak urged action to continue on the Senate’s Menendez-Kirk bill, and said that President Barack Obama is tougher on Congress’ Iran sanctions supporters than he is with the Iranians.
“President Obama has shown a willingness to be tough in confronting the pro-Israel majority in Congress, threatening to veto any legislation that would punish Iranian deception or prevent the White House from acquiescing to a bad deal with Iran,” Pollak wrote.
“With Iran, on the other hand, Obama is willing to accept an agreement that weakens even the original bad deal he announced two months ago. It is a deal that guarantees a permanent Iranian nuclear weapons capability and grants a new concession by allowing Iran to continue developing ever more advanced centrifuges during the talks.” On Tuesday following the announcement, American for Peace Now (APN) lauded the administration’s progress and called for American Jewish organizations to suspend their lobbying for the Menendez-Kirk bill and similar legislation.
“We once again call on Congress to stand with the Obama Administration and support this diplomatic effort,” APN CEO Debra DeLee wrote in a statement. “It is irresponsible in the extreme for Members of the House and Senate to be pursuing new Iran sanctions legislation or any legislation that could undermine negotiations or the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action.”
Despite APN’s complaints, the agreement appears to have not slowed down the Menendez-Kirk bill’s progress through Congress and may have even added a sense of urgency.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 14, the House leaders have decided to push for a vote on a bill mirroring the language of the Senate’s bill.
Although the House passed its own sanctions bill in August, the new effort aims to speed up the progress of the bill by avoiding the reconciliation process required when the House and Senate pass similar bills with different language.
President Barack Obama has promised to veto any bill to increase Iran sanctions that comes across his desk, but Congress is confident it will have a veto-proof majority in both the House and Senate.
In the Democrat-led senate, a veto-proof majority requires 67 votes.
As of Tuesday, the bill has a total of 59 co-sponsors, 16 of them Democrats. the question remains what the other Democratic senators will do, if and when there is a vote. On thursday of last week, William Daroff, senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, tweeted and then confirmed by phone with WJWthat a very high level, “name brand” Washington source told him that whip counts estimate a total of 34 Democratic senators ready to support a vote on the bill. If nothing changes between now and a vote on the bill, this gives the Menendez-Kirk bill a total of 78 votes, giving the Senate power to override a veto from the president.
Meanwhile, groups like the American Jewish Committee (AJC) are vowing to continue lobbying Congress in favor of more
“Whether or not the interim six-month deal is successful will depend on the continuing negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran on a permanent agreement that will end Iran’s ability to achieve nuclear-weapons capability,” said Alan Ronkin, director of AJC’s Washington, D.C. Region. “AJC has supported the Senate bill, and will watch closely in the coming days what decisions Senators Menendez, Kirk, the other co-sponsors, and the Senate majority leader make on moving the legislation.”