The Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his GOP co-sponsor of legislation to keep the heat on Iran vowed to “act decisively” against any administration deal that doesn’t kill the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), whose legislation includes strict guidance for the compliance necessary to ease sanctions, said in a joint statement today “a good deal will dismantle, not just stall, Iran’s illicit nuclear program and prevent Iran from ever becoming a threshold nuclear weapons state.”
Secretary of State John Kerry recently wrapped up the latest round of negotiations in Oman as the administration barrels toward a Nov. 24 deadline for a deal.
“This will require stringent limits on nuclear-related research, development and procurement, coming clean on all possible military dimensions (PMD) issues and a robust inspection and verification regime for decades to prevent Iran from breaking-out or covertly sneaking-out,” Menendez and Kirk said.
“Gradual sanctions relaxation would only occur if Iran strictly complied with all parts of the agreement. If a potential deal does not achieve these goals, we will work with our colleagues in Congress to act decisively, as we have in the past.”
They have the veto-proof votes, in this Congress or the next.
The White House feared this to the extent that a year ago Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who had vowed to bring a bill to the floor that would trigger additional sanctions on Iran if talks fell through, withheld the legislation at the administration’s request. The White House maintained that any action from Congress would spook Iran and derail talks.
Menendez received the biggest standing ovation at the March AIPAC conference in Washington when he declared, “When it comes to Iran, I have stood with you and have stood against so many in my own party.”
But he’s not the only powerful Senate Dem who’s unabashedly pro-Israel and highly skeptical of an Iran deal. That roster is led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
That month after the AIPAC conference, 83 senators banded together to demand that President Obama meet core principles, including clear consequences, in any final nuclear agreement with Iran.
“We believe that Congress has a continuing role to play to improve the prospects for success in the talks with Iran,” the senators wrote. “As these negotiations proceed, we will outline our views about the essential goals of a final agreement with Iran, continue oversight of the interim agreement and the existing sanctions regime, and signal the consequences that will follow if Iran rejects an agreement that brings to an end its nuclear weapons ambitions.”
Members have complained over the past several months that they’re not being given appropriate involvement in the negotiations process.
And at his press conference last Wednesday, Obama danced around a question on implementing an agreement with Iran without coming to Congress.
“Whether we can actually get a deal done, we’re going to have to find out over the next three to four weeks. We have presented to them a framework that would allow them to meet their peaceful energy needs,” he said.
Obama argued he could repeal “a series of different sanctions” unilaterally, including ones imposed unilaterally.
“But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. What I want to do is see if in fact, we have a deal,” the president said. “If we do have a deal that I have confidence will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and that we can convince the world and the public will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, then, you know, it’ll be time to engage in Congress.”
Key Democratic critics of the administration’s Iran policy in the House include Foreign Affairs Committee members Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).
Engel and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) sent a letter to Obama in July, signed by 344 members of the House, insisting that Congress play a role at the outset of any comprehensive agreement.
“I disagree with the Administration’s reported assertion that it does not need to come to Congress at this point during negotiations with Iran,” Engel said in October. “We don’t know if the negotiators will be able to reach a good deal. In the meantime, we must ensure that the United States is in the best position to use our leverage at every point in the negotiation process, and the current sanctions regime represents our most powerful leverage against Iran.”
Over the weekend, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted about “how can Israel be eliminated.” On Monday, he tweeted why he supports the nuclear talks, including “repelling the evil of the Great Satan.”
“I’ve instructed my office to send a letter to the foreign ministers of the P5+1 countries,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau said in a Monday night statement. “In that letter I bring, verbatim, the words of Iran’s ruler Ayatollah Khamenei. The leader of this country that is depicted by some as moderate, the Islamic State of Iran, has said in the last 48 hours: one, that he calls for the annihilation of Israel – his words, not mine; two, he gives nine ways and reasons of how and why Israel should be annihilated – his words, not mine.”
“He’s publically calling for the annihilation of Israel as he is negotiating a nuclear deal with the P5+1 countries,” the prime minister continued. “There is no moderation in Iran. It is unrepentant, unreformed, it calls for Israel’s eradication, it promotes international terrorism, and as the IAEA report just said, it continues to deceive the international community about its nuclear weapons program.”
“This terrorist regime in Iran must not be allowed to become a nuclear threshold power. And I call on the P5+1 countries – don’t rush into a deal that would let Iran rush to the bomb.”
State Department press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN last night “there’s no question that those tweets link to an account associated with the supreme leader are reprehensible, they’re disgusting, and certainly we condemn that.”
“But let’s remember what’s at stake here. And that’s preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That’s in Israel’s interest. I believe the prime minister referenced that. That’s in the United States’ interests, that’s in the global community’s interests,” Psaki said.
“What’s the alternative? If we are not going to continue to pursue a diplomatic path and try to achieve a comprehensive deal in the next 13 days?”
The Washington Free Beacon reported Tuesday on emails obtained from the Truman National Security Project, vowing to assemble a “crack team of writers” to push the administration narrative about a final nuclear deal.
“Our community absolutely must step up and not cede the public narrative to neocon hawks that would send our country to war just to screw the president,” Graham F. West, Truman’s writing and communications associate, wrote. “…The core message is the same: a deal is the only way to prevent an Iranian bomb and keep the U.S. out of another war.”