The Iran Bill: Corker’s Narrow Victory

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The story of The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 thus far has read like a something out of a political novel: a classic struggle between the U.S. Congress and the White House, internal party strife, a flurry of accusations, Federal indictments, and a less than clear conclusion.

By a unanimous vote of 19-0, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pushed through the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. This bipartisan bill was initially sponsored by Republican Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democratic Ranking Member (and former Chairman) Robert Menendez of New Jersey. In a somewhat unsurprising, albeit interesting, turn of events, the White House announced the President would not veto the bill, reversing the President’s prior threat to veto any legislation regarding the P5+1 negotiations. If any of the events regarding this bill have raised your eyebrows, you are not alone. The journey of this bill has been enveloped in shades of gray and it is not entirely clear what the implications will be going forward.

On its face, this bill is a narrow victory for those who are skeptical of the P5+1 negotiations. The Congress will have an opportunity to weigh in on any potential final agreement with Iran come June 30, a measure supported by 72% of the American public. Congress will be given a 30 day window to review the agreement and pass a resolution expressing approval or disapproval, during which time the President will not provide sanctions relief. Should President Obama veto the resolution, a full override of 67 votes in the Senate will be required to overturn, which would be a difficult task for potential opponents of a deal.

Given the intricacy of this legislation, the description above does not tell the whole story. One could easily write several pages on the details, but in the interest of brevity I will point out a few of the more important points of interest:

1. The shortening of the review period from 60 to 30 days. This has been a main talking point from reports on the bill, but it is important to note that the bill does provide for an increase to 60 days should the President provide the agreement, and the White House’s requisite report on it, between July 10 and September 7 of 2015. The shortening of the review period therefore is not detrimental to the bill itself.

2. Restrictions on lifting of sanctions. It is important to note that the structure of the bill focuses on Congress’ ability to lift legislative sanctions on Iran, and not a complete ‘yes or no’ on the entirety of the agreement itself. During the review process the President will not be allowed to lift any sanctions, and pending a veto, he will be prohibited from lifting sanctions for 10 days after the veto. Though this bill is not a hard ‘yes or no’ on the agreement, the legislative sanctions are key to the potential future agreement, meaning Congress would still have significant pull on any final deal.

3. Presidential reporting. The bill requires a significant amount of Executive reporting to the Congress upon the reaching of a deal and consistent reporting every 6 months after a deal has been reached. The reporting measures are very extensive, and include everything from reviews of the Iranian nuclear program to reports on the Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile program and sponsorship of international terrorism.

4. Expedited process for reinstating legislative sanctions. The bill provides for an outlined, expedited process for reinstating any legislative sanctions that are removed should Iran breach any portion of the final agreement. This is crucial because it would allow Congress to act quickly should Iran cheat the deal.

The Corker bill we saw come out of committee has undoubtedly been weakened compared to the original, but the fact it will more than likely be the law of the land is a crucial change from the initial White House policy that any such bill would be vetoed. The White House probably realized they did not have the whip count to successfully maintain a veto and instead chose to accept a weakened version of the bill over what would have been a distracting, drawn out fight which would force the President to spend a lot of political capital. This bill lays down a very important foundation from which we can be more certain that Iran will held to account for its actions for the duration of the agreement, without it the potential final deal could be much worse than it would be without a Congressional review written into law.

So yes, skeptics of the P5+1 negotiations did win a narrow victory, but it is crucial that policymakers and the public at large continue to be wary of the multitude of security concerns regarding Iran that have yet to be addressed. This bill is not a cure all and will not necessarily ensure a positive outcome come June 30. It also does not address key issues on the Iranian ICBM program, international support of terrorism, incursions in the Middle East and horrendous human rights abuses. The agreement that has been made on the Corker bill is only one step in what is sure to be a long journey to June 30th.

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Russ Read

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