US Congress will not accept a paper tiger

ANALYSIS: The average congressman may be unaware of the specific details challenging talks.

April 1, 2015 05:00
2 minute read.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (L) greets Head of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi as he arrives for a meeting in Lausanne. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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LAUSANNE, Switzerland – US and Iranian negotiators may understand one another inside gilded palace rooms in Switzerland. But members of Congress will have a harder time digesting whatever comes out of these latest nuclear talks – described as a framework “understanding” of a vague sort – without extensive briefings by the Obama administration.

Journalists here, some of whom cover the talks on a daily basis, are unclear as to precisely what negotiators hope to achieve. As they consider new legislation on Iran, House and Senate leadership is unlikely to find satisfaction in a five-page document that fails to outline the future of much of Tehran’s nuclear work.

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The State Department understands this. Entering talks just hours before their March 31 deadline, senior US officials acknowledged that Congress would demand briefings on all aspects of a deal – far beyond what diplomats expect to release to the public.

Those officials, in conversation with The Jerusalem Post, committed to provide such briefings to Congress in a classified setting. But lawmakers may still be dissatisfied, and the American people – alongside its proxies in the press – will be left without key details on a deal with the potential to reshape the US national security landscape.

The average congressman may be unaware of the specific details challenging these talks. But congressional leadership is familiar with Iran’s nuclear program on an impressive and technical level, and has expectations to match.

Authors of new legislation on Iran want answers on the fate of the Fordow uranium enrichment plant, the pace with which sanctions on Iran will be lifted by the United Nations Security Council, the future of Tehran’s existing uranium stockpile, and its commitment to cap nuclear research and development.

So far, several Democrats have held out support for a bill that would provide Congress with the ability to oversee, and effectively approve of, any future agreement. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act would require Obama to submit any final deal to Congress, allowing the legislature to review its tenets and ultimately vote on its participation in the deal.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto that bill, as well as all other legislation on Iran during the diplomatic process.

Some of Obama’s partisan critics say the deal is a lost foreign- policy cause: Nothing that emerges from Lausanne can be salvaged, given the extent to which the president’s team has compromised.

But several moderate Democrats remain on the fence. Whether legislation proceeds with veto-proof support may well depend on what his team produces in Switzerland, running out the clock as of this writing.

Within each of these significant provisions of a deal, further technical challenges await negotiators. But absent an agreement that addresses these concerns, Congress will likely question whether the Obama administration met its own bar of “addressing all of the major elements” of a future, comprehensive nuclear accord.

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