In a rare Democratic rebuke of President Obama, the bipartisan Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously to advance the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). The bill would grant Congress the ability to review the deal currently being crafted by the Obama administration and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. President Obama, sensing rebellion from within his own party, stated for the first time publicly that he would be willing to sign the bill.
Thus, the lobbying effort undertaken by the Obama administration fell flat. That effort included the threat of a veto by President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry providing a classified briefing to members of Congress on Monday, and what State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf characterized as “a robust amount of outreach” on the part of other administration officials such as Energy Secretary (and nuclear physicist) Ernest Moniz, who has played a key role with the framework’s technical aspects, and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.
The effort didn’t take. Congressmen from both sides of the aisle emerged from the Kerry briefing full of skepticism. “I was skeptical before, I remain skeptical,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY). And even though Israel believes the administration should get the necessary time to reach a genuine agreement, “I reserve the right as a member of Congress to vote ‘yes’ or to vote ‘no.’ But Congress ought to be able to vote.”
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) was far less sanguine. “They announced 10 days ago or so that we have an agreement. I don’t think that we do,” he insisted, noting that within hours of a White House fact sheet release detailing the ostensible parameters of that agreement, “we had Iranian leadership countering almost every element of that.”
Stewart also noted the administration’s foreign relations track record was part of the mix. “Based on the success or the lack of success of this administration over the last few years in this very important part of the world, many of us are moving cautiously, and want to monitor and want to be involved with that as much as we can,” he explained. He also dismissed Kerry’s contention that the media was to blame for misleading reports on the framework. “I mean, he says there’s misrepresentations in the media but I don’t see that,” he insisted. “What I see is a complete lack of understanding between the Americans and their Iranian counterparts.”
The two most critical aspects with regard to that lack of understanding are the vast gulf between when sanctions would be lifted, and how much access to Iranian military installations weapons inspectors would have. Obama claims the lifting of sanctions would be phased in, while the Iranians insist they would be immediately and fully jettisoned upon reaching an accord. Obama insisted Iran agreed to “the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected that notion completely. “One must absolutely not allow infiltration of the security and defense realm of the state on the pretext of inspection,” he declared. “The military authorities of the state are not – under any circumstance – allowed to let in foreigners to this realm under the pretext of inspection, or stop the country’s defense development.”
The administration’s position was also undermined by a cadre of Iran-relations experts, including former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden, former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Olli Heinonen, and Foundation for Defense of Democracies executive director Mark Dubowitz, all of whom spoke to Congress on Monday and put their support behind the idea of granting the Legislative branch “a decisive role in the evaluation of any nuclear deal with Iran.”
Regarding the compromise, the initial 60-day review period of a final nuclear agreement was cut to 30 days. That review period would also provide a maximum of 12 days for Obama to accept or veto a congressional resolution of disapproval, and a 10 day window for Congress to override a veto. Corker also agreed to another deviation from his original bill, which had demanded the president provide certification every 90 days that Iran was no longer supporting terror against Americans domestically or abroad. If he couldn’t, sanctions would have been re-imposed. The latest wording calls for periodic reports on Iranian terror and ballistic missile capabilities, but those reports would not allow for the restoring of sanctions that would be lifted if a deal is enacted.
That last bit was a key concession aimed at getting Democrats like Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to support the bill. “It is not that we are suddenly unconcerned with Iran’s acts of terrorism,” Coons told reporters on Monday. “It is not that I don’t believe Iran to be a major state of terrorism. It’s that it isn’t centrally at issue in this negotiation and shouldn’t be centrally at issue in this legislation.”
One is left to wonder why not, especially in light of Monday’s revelation that Russia, one of the key members of the P5+1 negotiators, will proceed with the sale of an advanced S-300 air defense missile system to Iran. Australia has described the S-300 as “without doubt the most capable SAM system in widespread use in the Asia Pacific region [and] in many key respects is more capable than the US Patriot series.”
This development crosses one of those so-called “red lines” imposed by the Obama administration. And like Yemen, it undermines another Obama administration-promoted “success story,” in this case the prevention of Russian weapons proliferation engendered by their “reset” strategy with Moscow. That would be the same reset strategy Hillary Clinton also deemed successful during her book tour nine months ago—shortly after a passenger jet was shot down over Ukraine. “What I think I demonstrate in the book, is that the reset worked,” Clinton told guest host John Harwood on NPR’s “On Point” last July.
Former White House National Security Council (NSC) member Elliot Abrams minced no words in describing a development that would make an air strike against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure far more dangerous. “American ‘red lines’ aren’t what they used to be, Medvedev is gone, and the ‘reset’ with Russia is an embarrassment,” Abrams writes. “So is the way the Obama administration claimed credit for changing Russia’s policy toward Iran.”
Perhaps it will occur to Congress that Obama is oh-for-two with regard to success stories—and that Iran is the direct beneficiary of both failures.
It ought to – along with the rest of the Obama administration’s record of Middle East embarrassments that should frame the context of any and all congressional negotiations on the nuclear framework. It is an unseemly level of ideologically-inspired arrogance, coupled with naiveté that has led to a premature withdrawal from Iraq, enabling the rise of “JV team” ISIS and Christian genocide; a “leading from behind” strategy that facilitated the disintegration of Libya; a tactical retreat from Yemen giving rise to both the Iranian-backed Houthis and al Qaeda; the swapping of five high-level Taliban commanders for an alleged deserter; the obscene backing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; and the ongoing effort to undermine Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for having the “temerity’” to warn Americans about the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran.
That would be the very same Iran currently funneling millions of dollars to Hamas in Gaza, so it can rebuild the terror tunnels destroyed by Israel last summer, _and_ supplying Hezbollah in the West Bank with arms in anticipation of a large-scale conflict with the Jewish State this summer.
Thus, it should be no surprise that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cited Iran’s untrustworthiness as a major reason for the unanimous accord. “One thing we’re in complete agreement here in Congress is that we don’t trust Iran,” Sen. Cardin told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “We don’t trust what they say, we want an agreement that is very specific that will prevent them from breaking out, or having a breakout capacity for a nuclear weapon so that if they cheat we can find their cheating and take action.” Cardin further insisted the agreement will “not be based on trust, it will be based on specific provisions that prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.”
The president seems to have gotten the message regarding a veto-proof majority. “The president would be willing to sign the proposed compromise that is working its way through the committee today,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, while warning that any last minute changes could derail that commitment. The full Senate will likely take up the deal this month, and GOP leaders promised swift action in the House as well. “Congress absolutely should have the opportunity to review this deal,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). “We shouldn’t just count on the administration, who appears to want a deal at any cost.”
For the moment, Congress has asserted itself. However, the true test will come when the accord with Iran is finalized in a few short months. It remains to be seen whether lawmakers, including those in Obama’s own party, will hold the president accountable for his reckless deal-making. So far prospects are promising, but far from certain.
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