- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Congressional GOP leaders said Tuesday they will hold votes in both the House and Senate next month on resolutions to disapprove of President Obama’s Iran nuclear program deal, setting up a dramatic showdown that will test the White House’s ability to keep its allies on board in the face of stiff political pressure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’ll even ask for senators to sit at their desks for the duration of the debate, lending heightened gravitas to the proceedings, which will determine whether the U.S. accedes to the deal that lifts sanctions and gives Iran access to tens of billions of dollars in exchange for promises — and follow-up verification — that the Islamic republic is willing to put a pause to military nuclear activities.

“This deal gives up too much, too fast, to a terrorist state,” said Rep. Edward R. Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who wrote his chamber’s version of the resolution of disapproval.

Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act passed earlier this year, Congress has a set length of time to consider the agreement Mr. Obama and other world leaders struck with Iran. If Congress disapproves, the president has a chance to veto it, and then he will try to survive an override on Capitol Hill.

That means opponents of the deal must muster a two-thirds majority.

Several key Democrats have announced their support for the deal this week, including Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, who said Tuesday the deal is a “dramatic improvement” over the current stalemate.

“This deal takes a nuclear weapons program that was on the verge of success and disables it for many years through peaceful diplomatic means with sufficient tools for the international community to verify whether Iran is meeting its commitments,” Mr. Kaine said.

But even as he wins some, Mr. Obama is losing other benchmark Democrats. Rep. Steve Israel, the highest-ranking Jewish Democrat in the House, and Rep. Nita M. Lowey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, announced their opposition.

“I tried very hard to get to yes. But at the end of the day, despite some positive elements in the deal, the totality compelled me to oppose it,” Mr. Israel told Newsday.

Trying to boost support, Mr. Obama met with Jewish-American leaders at the White House Tuesday to explain the merits of the deal, shortly after they heard an online presentation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a vocal opponent of the accord.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president told the Jewish leaders that he “believes [it is] in the national security interests of our closest ally in the region, Israel, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through diplomacy.”

Mr. Earnest also said it would be “foolish” for a future president to void the agreement with Iran, as some GOP presidential candidates have vowed. “We will have an opportunity over the course of the next year and a half to implement the agreement and to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement,” he said.

Mr. Obama will give a speech about the Iran deal Wednesday at American University in Washington.

In the speech, Mr. Obama will frame the congressional decision about the Iranian deal as “the most consequential foreign policy debate since the decision to go to war in Iraq,” a White House official said.

“He will make the case that this should not even be a close call,” the official said. “He will point out that the same people who supported war in Iraq are opposing diplomacy with Iran.”

Republicans are expected to be nearly universal in their opposition to the deal, meaning that Mr. Obama will have to hold support among fellow Democrats if he is to prevail.

The latest hiccup for the president is over side agreements Iran reached with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will be responsible for conducting the inspections to verify compliance.

Congressional Republicans say the Iran Review Act required all documentation to be submitted, and they say that includes the side agreements.

“This is no small matter,” Rep. Mike Pompeo, Kansas Republican, and nearly 100 other House Republicans wrote in a letter to the president. “The issue of how we will verify that Iran is being truthful about its activities at potential nuclear sites will determine whether the [agreement] can ultimately succeed.”

The lawmakers said the terms of the Nuclear Review Act guarantee Congress “the right and the duty to review every relevant document, every term, and every word of this agreement in order to make an informed decision about whether or not it merits our support.”

Mr. McConnell told reporters that “the fact that they are unwilling to provide side agreements is a serious problem.”

The White House brushed the calls aside, saying the administration has given Congress all available documents.

“We believe we’ve produced all the materials Congress needs,” said Mr. Earnest.

Iran and the IAEA have signed agreements governing the inspections of one of Iran’s most secretive nuclear sites — the Parchin military complex — and other potential military sites. The administration said it doesn’t have the text of those agreements, which it describes as standard for a country submitting to nuclear inspections.

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