Senate plans March 24 action on Iran deal

"Post March 24 and absent an agreement, there is no mechanism left to further delay the legislative process from moving forward."

March 15, 2015 00:03
2 minute read.

Iranian flag. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee leadership, both Democrat and Republican, will move forward on March 24 with legislation that would provide Congress with oversight powers on any future nuclear deal with Iran.

"That's the window the world was given, and Congress is acting within that window," one Senate aide close to the matter told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday. "Post March 24 and absent an agreement, there is no mechanism left to further delay the legislative process from moving forward."

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The committee will mark up the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 at that time without delay, several aides confirm, despite an apparent disagreement over precisely when the deadline is for world powers to reach a political framework agreement with Iran over its nuclear work.

Ten Democratic senators agreed to join their Republican colleagues in support of the legislation on the 24th, though diplomats in Lausanne, Switzerland, are working toward a March 31 deadline.

Senators consider March 24 to be the deadline because US Secretary of State John Kerry, on November 24, said a framework agreement should be reached within four months. Negotiators, instead, are counting three months backward from a hard expiration on the interim Joint Plan of Action, on June 30.

The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015— which would trigger new sanctions on Iran should negotiators fail to reach a deal— will also be revisited on March 24, the aide continued, unless a deal is reached.

The intention of that bill, triggering sanctions upon diplomatic failure, is to strengthen Washington's negotiating position, according to its authors Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois). The Obama administration contends that its passage would have the opposite affect.

The second bill, introduced with bipartisan support, would grant Congress the ability to vote on whether to participate in any future agreement. Such a vote might have the ultimately effect of undermining enforcement of the deal.

US President Barack Obama has threatened to veto both bills if they reach his desk.

"After two negotiating extensions and over a year-and-a-half of talks, with a steady stream of reports detailing that the Iranians have won numerous concessions, I wouldn't bet on congressional inaction," the aide continued. "Ultimately, the onus is not on US legislators, nor should the pressure fall on Congress, but rather, on the Iranian leadership to make the right determination about dismantling its illicit nuclear weapons program."

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act has 64 senators on record in support of the bill after March 24, but Corker says he seeks a "veto-proof" majority of 67 votes.

Negotiations continue on Sunday in Lausanne between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

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