It could, but it may not be in time
With the Senate flipping from Democratic control to Republican control, the question emerges whether the legislature, now in the hands of the opposition, will be able to rein in President Barack Obama in the event that he engineers a bad nuclear deal with Iran.
In short, the Senate will almost certainly be more willing to stop a bad deal. The bad news is that it may be too late.
As far as the deal itself, it is not considered a treaty and therefore not subject to Congressional approval. However, the sanctions bill passed by Congress allows the President to suspend (not permanently cancel) sanctions.
A bill co-sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) that would impose stronger sanctions on Iran, if the Islamic Republic would either “violate the interim agreement or walk away from the negotiations,” was scuttled by the White House in January. Although there was bi-partisan support in the Senate for the bill, Obama prevailed on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to keep the bill from coming to a vote. Obama viewed the bill as a violation of the P5+1’s commitment in last year’s Joint Plan of Actions (JPA) (.pdf) to “refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.” Since the Kirk-Menendez bill would only come into effect if Iran violated its commitments, Obama’s concern seems baseless.
With Reid no longer Majority Leader, the Kirk-Menendez bill should at least come to a vote, as incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in January, “We’re going to continue to press the majority leader to allow a vote on an issue that obviously enjoys the support of a very large bipartisan majority here in the Senate.”
If Iran is scared of additional sanctions and the administration were interested in a deal that would prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, President Obama would tell Iran, “I have no control over the crazy Republican, dismantle all of your centrifuges, stop stonewalling the International Atomic Energy Agency, or the Kirk-Menendez bill will pass and there will be nothing I can do.” Of course President Obama will do nothing of the sort. Contrary to Secretary of State John Kerry’s repeated assertion that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” the administration appears motivated by the idea that “any deal is better than no deal.” Obama’s highly controversial letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month will only be interpreted as “American desperation” for a deal by Iran.
And that’s the problem. Even as new revelations come out that Iran isn’t cooperating with IAEA, as it was required to by the JPA, the United States is determined to reach a deal with Iran in two weeks. The Senate doesn’t change hands until January.
To get a sense where the administration stands on a deal with Iran consider this exchange between the AP’s Matt Lee and State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Friday.
QUESTION: Well, whether it’s a draft or the final, it says that Iran is still not complying with the efforts of the agency to determine whether or not there is a – there was or is a military component of its nuclear program. Is that – does that enter at all into the P5+1 negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not going to agree on something unless there’s a means of monitoring, right? And obviously, abiding by the IAEA role in monitoring is certainly part of what we discuss.
QUESTION: So does that mean that if Iran continues to stall or continues to not cooperate with the IAEA on this investigation into what it may have done in the past, that you will not agree to a deal with the Iranians?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead of where we are with a deal, Matt, or discuss it further, other than to convey that, obviously, the IAEA plays an important role in monitoring what is happening within Iran.
MS. PSAKI: We recognize that. That will continue. We support their role, continue to call on Iran to abide by it. But obviously, the ability to monitor whatever would be agreed to is certainly part of the discussion.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the point of this report – again, whether it’s the draft or final – is that they don’t have the ability to do it because the Iranians aren’t letting them.
MS. PSAKI: We continue to call on them to abide by it, Matt. That continues to be the message they’re sending.
QUESTION: But that’s not – but you’re saying that’s not a deal-breaker? In other words, you’re saying that even if Iran continues to stonewall on this – this one part of the IAEA investigation, that that is not a deal-breaker, that you could still reach an agreement?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I said. I’m not getting into what’s going to be a deal-breaker or not. I’m conveying that, obviously, we have repeatedly said, consistently said that the IAEA has an important role. We’ve consistently said that monitoring of what any deal would be —
First, Psaki tries to dismiss the IAEA report as a draft. When Lee won’t let her get away with it she reverts to saying that the IAEA “plays an important role in monitoring what is happening within Iran.” Psaki won’t say what violations will make the United States say enough is enough; she seems to be saying (and is presumably saying so in the name of the administration) “we don’t care how many times Iran violates its commitments, just as long as we know what Iran is violating.”
Of course the problem is that much of Iran’s nuclear program was not declared as Iran was obligated to do, but was discovered by others. Instead of using the threat of sanctions to get Iran to abide by its international commitments, the administration seems determined to allow it to continue flouting international law and six Security Council resolutions.
At the end of October, The Free Beacon got hold of a recording of Obama adviser Ben Rhodes saying, “Bottom line is, this is the best opportunity we’ve had to resolve the Iranian issue diplomatically, certainly since President Obama came to office, and probably since the beginning of the Iraq war. So no small opportunity, it’s a big deal. This is probably the biggest thing President Obama will do in his second term on foreign policy. This is healthcare for us, just to put it in context.”
In this case, Obama is saying to Iran “If you like your nuclear enrichment, you can keep your nuclear enrichment.” The problem is that unlike in the case of ObamaCare, Iran will keep its enrichment programs.
Aside from possibly coming too late the other downside to the switch in parties is losing Menendez as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I’ve seen a few hearings with Menendez. He is extremely conversant in the technical aspects of Iran’s nuclear program and can explain the threat Iran poses to the Middle East. Bob Corker is certainly capable, but on this issue he is nowhere near as effective as Menendez.
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