- - Thursday, April 2, 2015

President Obama has agreed to a basic framework of a deal with Iran that is supposed to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. What details it may contain we don’t yet know, and the president is apparently determined to see that neither we nor Congress will. That is unacceptable to the American people because the agreement will have a significant effect on America’s national security and that of our Middle Eastern allies.

Mr. Obama has made it clear that the agreement will not be submitted to the Senate for ratification as Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution requires. There are only three instances in which a president can execute an international agreement that does not need senate ratification. According to the Restatement of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States, an executive agreement doesn’t need ratification when it is made pursuant to an earlier treaty, pursuant to an act of Congress or when it is within the president’s inherent powers. None of those three conditions pertain to the nascent Iran nuclear weapons agreement.

The president seeks an agreement that will, by all reports, allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium and not mandate international inspectors’ unlimited access to Iran’s nuclear development sites. Iran’s consistent behavior — by refusing to allow inspections at some disclosed locations, by keeping nuclear development sites secret and by cleaning up evidence of nuclear development before inspectors arrive — proves they will cheat on any agreement they sign.

We know that any limitation of Iran’s development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles will not be a part of the deal. I believe any agreement that fails to guarantee inspectors’ unlimited access to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the means to enforce it, and a clear limitation of development and testing of nuclear-capable ICBMs should never be made.

Those facts show that the agreement will, in effect, grant Iran an exception to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which the Senate ratified in 1970. Iran, as a party to that treaty, agreed that it would not develop nuclear weapons. If the president’s agreement allows it to do so in secret, the president will, in effect, have modified the Nonproliferation Treaty unilaterally. His inherent powers do not extend to changing the terms of a treaty that the Senate already ratified.

Moreover, Mr. Obama has himself recognized that agreements on nuclear weapons are of such grave import that they cannot be made without Senate ratification. His New START agreement with Russia, which limits both U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, was submitted to the Senate in 2010 and ratified the following year.

Whenever agreements are made with adversary nations — be it Russia or Iran — the American people and their elected representatives have the right to know the terms of any such agreement. Because Mr. Obama intends to bypass Senate ratification, Congress must act. They can, and must, intercede to exert their constitutional duties.

The Senate has just passed unanimously the Menendez-Kirk amendment that would re-impose sanctions on Iran if it violates the deal that Mr. Obama is negotiating. But by the time we discover that Iran has secretly violated the agreement and built a bomb, it will be too late. Congress needs to act now, and has several measures they could pass within days.

First, the House and Senate should pass a resolution providing that whatever agreement is reached should be submitted, in full, to both the House for debate and to the Senate for ratification. Even if the Obama administration wants to classify parts of the agreement, members of the House and Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees must be able to consider its implications. In truth, the whole thing should be revealed to the public and made available to our key allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and other nations that will be directly affected by it.

Second, the Senate should undertake its constitutional duty of ratification because of the grave effects any agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons will surely have. There is no issue more important that reduces the need for the Senate to undertake this duty. Senate hearings, both open and classified, should be held and any agreement with Iran should be voted on and approved or disapproved. The terms of the agreement will determine whether it should be ratified or rejected.

America’s foreign policy is in disarray. By readying an agreement with Iran on the future of its nuclear weapons program, the president is pursuing a policy that could readily and comprehensively destabilize the Middle East or, worse still, give Iran a clear path to nuclear dominance of the entire region.

The American people and their elected representatives must not be left out of this process. Congress needs to act with determination and resolve to prevent the president from shutting them out of this matter.

James S. Gilmore III served as governor of Virginia from 1998 to 2002.

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