WASHINGTON -- Four senators have introduced a bill that would grant Congress the opportunity to approve, or disapprove, of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by the Obama administration.
Under the pen for several months, the bill was published with a total of 12 cosponsors just five days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to address the legislature. He is expected to express support for Congress' role in the diplomatic process.
Given the timing of its publication, the bill represents a nexus of tension among policymakers at the White House, the Israeli premier and US lawmakers over the role of Congress on Iran policy, the foreign policy powers of the president and the quality of a proposed nuclear agreement.
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 was introduced on Friday by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and ranking member Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), as well as Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Tim Kaine (D-Virginia).
Their move was immediately criticized by the White House. US President Barack Obama will veto all legislation on Iran so long as negotiations are under way, one spokesman told The Jerusalem Post
"The president has been clear that now is not the time for Congress to pass additional legislation on Iran," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in an e-mail. "If this bill is sent to the president, he will veto it."
The bill would require Obama submit to Congress the text of a final agreement as well as evidence of Iran's compliance to the deal, and prohibits him from "suspending, waiving or otherwise reducing" congressional sanctions for sixty days.
At that point in time, Congress would vote on a joint resolution of approval or disapproval of the deal. Should Congress vote against the agreement, and should the president veto that resolution, the legislature would vote a second time with the potential to override his veto with a two-thirds majority.
Such a vote "would block the president from implementing congressional sanctions relief under the agreement," Corker's office says, effectively killing the deal.
"We are in the final weeks of an international negotiation," Meehan said, explaining the president's position. "We should give our negotiators the best chance of success, rather than complicating their efforts."
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is preparing to open its annual conference on Sunday and to host Netanyahu the following day, will fight for the bill, one official said.
Previously, the president had expressed opposition to additional sanctions legislation on Iran during the talks, warning that such a bill would derail the prospects for a diplomatic solution to the decade-long conflict. The same logic now applies to Corker's oversight bill, the White House says.
"We support the legislation and will be lobbying for it," an AIPAC official told the Post
In a prepared statement to press, Corker said few issues are more important to US national security than the current deal under discussion in Switzerland. US Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Montreux on Monday to continue intensive negotiations with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
"Any agreement that seeks to do this must include Congress having a say on the front end," Corker said, highlighting bipartisan support for his bill.
Kaine, a vocal supporter of the president's efforts, suggested a vote from Congress might underscore American support for a prospective deal.
"Iran is fully aware that its ultimate goal– elimination of statutory sanctions created by Congress– will require Congressional approval," Kaine said. "But long before Congress considers that repeal, a deal with Iran will involve up-front relief... I believe Congress should weigh in on the content of the deal given the centrality of the congressional sanctions to the entire negotiation and the significant security interests involved."
Support from Kaine gave this new bill, written by Republicans, a vital bipartisan boost, just days after the Virginia senator announced his intention to skip Netanyahu's speech on Tuesday. Senators John McCain (R-Arizona), Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), Bill Nelson (D-Florida), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) cosponsored the legislation.
Aside from Kaine, who characterized Netanyahu's planned speech as "highly inappropriate," all authors and cosponsors of the bill are expected to attend. As of this writing, five Democratic senators and several congressmen announced plans to skip the speech, which has infuriated the White House.
Netanyahu strongly opposes the deal currently under discussion, which is said to include a sunset clause of roughly ten years before restrictions on Iran's nuclear program begin to ease. Tehran would also be allowed to retain a substantial amount of its nuclear infrastructure, according to reports.
"There are lots of voices saying lots of things, both about what’s happening in the negotiation– I find most of those stories amusing more than anything else– and what’s going to happen if you get one," Wendy Sherman, Obama's chief negotiator with Iran, told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Friday. Sherman said the US would be "fortunate" to reach agreement on the proposal, which is now before the Iranians.
The Obama administration says its goal is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and will settle for nothing less than a verifiable deal that puts Iran at least a year away from acquiring the necessary fissile material.
Israel publicly opposes any deal that allows Iran to retain a nuclear weapons capacity.
At a press conference with his Italian counterpart in Tehran, Zarif dismissed Netanyahu's concerns
as an "unfortunate" effort to distract the world from Israel's conflict with the Palestinians.
"I believe this effort is fruitless and it should not be an impediment to an agreement," he said on Saturday, accusing Netanyahu of attempting to "utilize a fabricated crisis to cover up realities in the region."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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