- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Republicans controlling both houses of Congress will have new license to pressure the Obama administration on foreign and national security policy, but congressional sources and analysts say it remains unlikely the GOP will have the power to play spoiler if the White House decides to accept an Iranian nuclear deal that allows Tehran to continue enriching uranium.

“A GOP controlled Congress will have more flexibility to have up or down votes on things like whether or not to keep up sanctions pressure on Iran, but the president still has the ability to veto things and he has the ability to waive such sanctions,” one senior congressional aide said Tuesday night.

The aide, who agreed to speak candidly on condition of not being named, said even with the majority Republicans have just won in the Senate, the party is unlikely to be able to come up with the 67 votes required to override a presidential veto.

“The GOP won’t have it,” said the aide, who works for a top Republican senator.

The comments are particularly relevant in light of recent reports that the White House may seek to push through a deal that results in lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran regardless of whether Congress approves the deal.

Under current law, the president does not have the power to permanently terminate the sanctions without congressional approval, but he can effectively suspend most of them without seeking such approval.

Since there is a chance that Congress might seek to keep the sanctions in place, the president plans to do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on the issue, according to a report last month by the New York Times.

But President Obama gave no indication Wednesday that he plans to avoid Congress on the Iran sanctions issue. Speaking with reporters at the White House, Mr. Obama said he does not “want to put the cart before the horse.”

“What I want to do is see if we, in fact, have a deal,” he said. “If we do have a deal that I have confidence will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and that we can convince the world and the public that it will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, then it will be time to engage in Congress.”

“And,” Mr. Obama added, “I think that we’ll be able to make a strong argument to Congress that this is the best way for us to avoid a nuclear Iran.”

National security experts, meanwhile, are split on how many votes might get garnered in a Republican-held Senate against a potential nuclear deal. The issue, they say, remains one of the biggest unanswered national security questions in Washington at the moment because no one outside a close circle within the administration knows what a final deal might look like.

The secretive nuclear talks, which were extended for six months in July, are currently facing a major Nov. 24 deadline for an agreement to be reached between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S. Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany.

Western powers have for years suspected Iran is clandestinely pursuing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge, claiming its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes.

As talks proceeded last year, the Obama administration announced that it was providing some $5.7 billion in sanctions relief to Iran as part of an initial framework agreement with Tehran.

As part of the framework, Iranian authorities agreed to dilute or convert their entire stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium — the material that could be used to eventually develop a nuclear weapon. But they were allowed to proceed with uranium enrichment to a level of 5 percent, claiming it would be used for things like power generation and medical purposes.

The situation triggered outrage among leaders in Israel, who’ve long argued that Iran is lying to the international community, as well as among several Republicans in Washington who assert that a “red line” for any permanent nuclear deal should be that Iran stop all enrichment activities.

While it remains to be seen how the negotiations will shake out later this month, some believe the now Republican-controlled Senate will do all it can to crush a potential deal.

“If they get to some sort of deal — and it’s a huge ‘if’ at this point — I think the Republicans will have a razor-thin margin toward passing legislation calling for more sanctions Iran,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow focused on national security at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

Others say the possibility is real that Republicans might actually be able to get enough votes to squash a White House veto of such legislation.

“They may have a veto majority on the Iran sanctions issue,” said Gordon Adams, an international relations professor and longtime U.S. foreign policy analyst at American University. “But it’s the only issue.”

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