- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Senators reached a bipartisan deal Tuesday to force any final Iran nuclear deal to be submitted to Congress as lawmakers took the first real steps to curb President Obama’s foreign policy negotiations with Tehran.

Under terms of the deal, which cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 19-0 vote, the administration couldn’t lift any of the sanctions Congress has placed on Iran’s nuclear program until he presents all the details to Capitol Hill and gives Congress a chance to have a say. If Congress doesn’t act, Mr. Obama can lift the sanctions on his own.

Lawmakers said that means they aren’t prejudging the deal, which Mr. Obama’s team is still negotiating with Iran, racing a self-imposed end-of-June deadline to flesh out details of the framework that all sides reached this month.

A chastened White House, which threatened vetoes of earlier versions of the bill, said it wasn’t “thrilled” but Mr. Obama likely would sign the legislation. The latest plan would give Congress a say only after the deal is completed, which means lawmakers can’t disrupt negotiations.

“They’ve relented,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

He said the White House realized it would suffer an embarrassing defeat if it continued to oppose the bill.

Mr. Obama this month announced that the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China reached the outlines of a deal with the regime in Tehran that would push Iran to slow work on its nuclear program and extend the amount of time it would take for the country to build an atomic weapon — a deadline dubbed “nuclear breakout.”

The specifics remain secret, and the Obama administration’s public descriptions of the deal differ markedly from the Iranians’ version, leaving many administration critics to question whether the president has been bamboozled.

The bill the committee approved Tuesday would give Mr. Obama time to finish his negotiations but require him to officially submit a final deal to Congress, starting the clock on lawmakers’ chance to review the proposal. Sanctions on Iran could not be lifted in the interim.

Congress could pass either a resolution of approval, giving its official backing, or a resolution of disapproval, or could do nothing. If lawmakers pass a bill of disapproval, Mr. Obama could use his veto power and force Congress to come up with enough votes to keep the sanctions in place.

Supporters and skeptics of the framework said they can back the legislation, saving potential battles such as support for Israel for an eventual floor fight.

“I would hope that the White House would recognize this is congressional prerogative, that we have if anything reinforced the president’s ability to negotiate and there will be no action taken by Congress on the substance of the agreements until we receive the agreements,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Some Republicans support the bill but said they feared Congress was ceding more legislative authority to Mr. Obama.

Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, said the Constitution’s requirement that all treaties be submitted to the Senate for ratification, requiring a two-thirds majority, should apply to the nuclear negotiations. Instead, the procedures worked out in the bill give Mr. Obama all the leverage.

“It is a far cry from advice and consent of 67 senators voting in the affirmative that this is a good deal,” Mr. Johnson said.

The White House has been trying to prevent congressional intrusion by repeatedly sending Secretary of State John F. Kerry, a former senator, to the Capitol to try to cajole lawmakers. The administration says it has maintained consultations, but Congress has insisted on a more formal say-so.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president wasn’t thrilled with the bill but changes to the time frames and stripping out provisions not related to the nuclear program made the bill more palatable.

“Despite the things about it that we don’t like, enough substantial changes have been made that the president would be willing to sign it,” Mr. Earnest said.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he expects his chamber to take up the bill once it clears the Senate.

Congress absolutely should have the opportunity to review this deal,” Mr. Boehner said. “We shouldn’t just count on the administration, who appears to want a deal at any cost.”

Congress is acting from a position of political strength. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll released Tuesday found that 72 percent of Americans say Congress should have a role in approving the Iran agreement.

Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, said his constituents tell him they want Congress to weigh in not because they don’t trust Mr. Obama, but because the decision is so momentous that Capitol Hill should provide a second opinion.

Mr. Obama has battled the Capitol for months over his powers to negotiate a deal with Iran. When several dozen Republican senators signed a letter to Iranian leaders signaling that Congress would demand a stiffer agreement than the one the president was negotiating, Mr. Obama said the lawmakers had undermined his negotiations.

Republicans said Tuesday that they hoped the president this time would use the prospect of congressional review as a bargaining chip to earn a better deal from Iran in the final negotiations.

“The White House should put the added leverage to use as it moves toward any final agreement, which Congress should be able to judge on its merits,” said Edward R. Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Russia, which as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council has been part of the negotiations, complicated the situation Tuesday when it announced that it had struck a deal for Iran to purchase an advanced anti-missile rocket system.

U.S. officials cast the deal as a separate matter that they hoped wouldn’t scuttle the nuclear talks.

“All of that is separate from the nuclear agreement,” Mr. Earnest said.

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