Surviving Congress, nuclear deal heads to Iran's parliament

Move come day after Obama secure support needed on Capitol Hill to maintain deal.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the country’s parliament to review the nuclear deal reached in July with international powers, one day after US President Barack Obama secured the support necessary on Capitol Hill to preserve the accord.
The move does not reflect a legal obligation of Khamenei, but a preference: The supreme religious leader can simply declare in favor of the deal, or have the country’s Supreme National Security Council review it. But his referral of it to the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, is consistent with his past approach to smaller nuclear agreements reached with Europe in 2003 and 2004.
In a series of messages on Twitter, Khamenei reasserted that the United States is an “enemy” of the Islamic Republic and doubled down on his support for efforts across the region to “resist” American and Israeli power.
“I have no advice to Majlis regarding review of [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and approval or disapproval of it,” Khamenei said, referring to the formal name of the nuclear deal. “The representatives of [the] nation must decide about it.”
But some of his comments suggested skepticism that the accord, which seeks to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in exchange for international sanctions relief, did not go far enough in achieving Tehran’s original aims.
“If a sanctions regime is to remain, why did we negotiate? This is against Iran’s reason for talks; our goal was total removal of sanctions,” he said via Twitter. “We asserted sanctions must be removed, not suspended. In case of suspension, our actions will, respectively, be suspension.”
US and EU sanctions should be lifted along with those passed through the United Nations Security Council, he said, acknowledging that Iran made “some concessions” in the talks – for the purpose of relieving Iran of sanctions.
Ratification by the Majlis does not require Khamenei’s blessing, either before or after the vote, unlike the alternative course through the Supreme National Security Council. Experts on Iran argue that a Majlis ratification will grant Khamenei flexibility, at a later date, to undermine or reject the accord, as he has with previous deals.
Khamenei’s Twitter account on Thursday also attacked American rhetoric toward Iran.
While he acknowledged that political divisions on the deal within the US are “real,” he characterized Washington’s unfiltered debate as “retarded.” The account deleted the insult, which was accompanied by a graphic, shortly after publishing it.
Back in Washington, Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mark Warner of Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota announced support for the Iran nuclear deal on Thursday, inching the White House closer to having the backing of 40 senators on the issue, a key threshold that would allow supporters of the accord to prevent a vote on it from taking place at all.
Booker’s endorsement was tepid: “It is better to support a deeply flawed deal, for the alternative is worse,” he said in a lengthy written statement on the agreement. The New Jersey senator said he saw little choice in the matter.
“With the JCPOA, we have now passed a point of no return that we should have never reached, leaving our nation to choose between two imperfect, dangerous and uncertain options,” Booker said.
Warner’s endorsement was preempted by the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, who announced the Virginia senator’s decision in his daily briefing with reporters. He had been told of Warner’s decision before the briefing, he said.
“While I choose to support the deal, I am not satisfied with it as a final measure and will support efforts to shore up its weaker points,” Warner said in his statement. “That includes clarifying that Congress retains the ability to pass sanctions legislation against Iran for their regime’s numerous other destabilizing activities including support for terrorism, and that there is no ‘grandfather clause’ to shield foreign firms in the event Iran violates the deal and the United States and its partners reimpose sanctions.”
Heitkamp was more enthusiastic in her endorsement, calling the JCPOA a “good deal” that the American people deserve to give an honest chance.
Thirty-seven senators now support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Only eight senators remain undecided, and opponents need four of those in order to stymie a filibuster and have a vote held on a resolution of disapproval scheduled for later this month.
All seven of those undecided senators are Democrats.
The White House declined to publicly celebrate its victory in securing the 34 Senate votes necessary to uphold a presidential veto, should one be necessary, of a resolution disapproving of the deal.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee are demanding that vote takes place, and warning Democratic leadership against filibustering debate. Congress returns from its summer recess next week, and its mandated period for review of the deal expires on September 17.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel needs to make clear to the American public that Iran is an enemy of the United States, something that Tehran openly declares, while Israel is its ally.
Netanyahu, at a Rosh Hashana toast at the Foreign Ministry, said the US public’s understanding of who are its friends and who are its enemies “has important ramifications for our future security.”
The “overwhelming majority of the American public sees eye-to-eye with us on the danger from Iran,” the prime minister, basing his comments on a number of public opinion polls.
Netanyahu said one of the important jobs of the Foreign Ministry was maintaining Israel’s close ties with its traditional allies, especially the US, “even in the face of differences of opinion that will emerge.”
The prime minister also told the ministry employees that another one of its central tasks was to “constantly refute the terrible denigrations of the state of the Jews, something that is in our power to do, in contrast to the thousands of years of our history in which we could not and when we did not have the ability.”
Netanyahu has not yet responded directly and publicly to the news that Obama on Wednesday secured the 34 votes in the Senate necessary to sustain a veto on the issue.