Defense27 April 2015

Notes from Norm: Pass Iran Review Without Amendment

This week the United States Senate will consider the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. This bipartisan legislation ensures that Congress will have a role in any agreement that the President reaches with Iran with respect to its nuclear program and nuclear weapons ambitions.

A month ago there was no clear consensus on whether Congress should have any role.

The President believed, and still believes, that he alone has the authority to negotiate on behalf of the United States and unilaterally conclude the most significant nuclear agreement in the last 50 years with one of the most untrustworthy nations in the last 50 years.

A vast majority in Congress, and the American people, not only do not share the President’s perspective, but insisted that the last say on this matter not rest with the President.

Barely two weeks ago, after weeks of hard work and compromise, the lead Senate sponsor, GOP Senate Bob Corker and his Democratic co-sponsor Ben Cardin, reached an agreement that resulted in the legislation being approved on a 19-0 vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In its current form the legislation gives Congress the ability to vote against removing congressional sanctions on Iran if it rejects any final agreement with Iran.

It would also require this Administration and future Administrations to certify that Iran is not cheating on its obligations.

It is not a perfect bill.  Nor will it be the final word on any agreement that the President is eager to reach with Iran.

It does, however, provide Congress with a platform to review any agreement the President concludes, exposing its weaknesses to full public view, and put pressure on the Administration to avoid giving Iran a shorter runway to its ambitions to bring Israel to its knees and further strengthen its own military hand throughout the region.

Furthermore, in its current state, and with its current level of bipartisan support, it creates what is now a veto proof bill that will keep the President and his negotiating team limited to what they can agree to with Iran without facing firm opposition from Congress.

There are many well-meaning members of the United States Senate that will do their best this week to tack on amendments to this carefully constructed bipartisan agreement.

On the Democratic side, members have clearly stated that any amendments that will be seen to weaken the President’s hand in negotiations will likely scuttle the bill.

On the Republican side, there are many members who feel that the President should be tougher on Iran – and demand Iran renounce terrorism, recognize Israel and continue to be subject to punitive sanctions.

While I understand and applaud my GOP friends and their passion for protecting Israel and their realistic perspective on the danger of Iran I would caution them against measures that may destroy this bipartisan agreement.

All it will take is one well intentioned amendment to undermine a veto  proof majority for requiring Congressional review. And Congressional review is the only path for a transparent review of any deal with Iran.

The President’s tentative agreement with Iran, when announced, appears to have been written with a crayon.  It lacks a consistent reading of what is, or isn’t, in the agreement by those that have signed onto it and already has Iran backtracking from its pledges of robust inspections.

Additionally, the weakness of the agreement is further exacerbated by the fact that Iran believes it should be absolved of all economic sanctions one the agreement has been signed – not fully implemented.

The President’s grudging acceptance of this agreement is predicated not on his respect for Congress, but his respect of the power of the American people’s support of the role of Congress to review and approve any final agreement he hopes to reach with Iran.

But, all it will take is one well intentioned amendment to allow the President to blame the GOP for the failure of negotiations with Iran.

The failure of negotiations with Iran already rests inside the White House – not in Congress.

Congress has a rightful role in this discussion and debate and thanks to the leadership of Senator Corker and Senator Cardin they now have one in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.

I understand the desire to stand up to the President by presenting amendments that will make it clear to America and the world that Iran is a dangerous and lethal actor on the world stage.

But those amendments may be exactly what kills this important legislation and creates a pathway for an even more dangerous agreement with Iran.

The best way to stand up to the President, and stand for Israel, is to pass the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015 without amendments.