Congress demands a say in Iran talks

Congress is demanding to have a say in whatever final nuclear deal the Obama administration ends up striking with Iran.

In bipartisan letters to President Obama, House and Senate lawmakers say Iran must not retain any ability to pursue a nuclear weapon.

The letters, which were spearheaded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to coincide with its annual conference, come after the White House successfully prevented a vote on sanctions legislation it says would derail talks.

ADVERTISEMENT
“As negotiations progress, we expect your administration will continue to keep Congress regularly apprised of the details,” wrote House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “And, because any long-term sanctions relief will require Congressional action, we urge you to consult closely with us so that we can determine the parameters of such relief in the event an agreement is reached, or, if no agreement is reached or Iran violates the interim agreement, so that we can act swiftly to consider additional sanctions and steps necessary to change Iran’s calculation.”

In the Senate, sanctions bill author Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) teed up on a similar letter, which was released by AIPAC on Sunday. They were joined by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

“We believe that Congress has a continuing role to play to improve the prospects for success in the talks with Iran. 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,” they wrote. 

“Should an acceptable final agreement be reached, your administration will need to work together with Congress to enact implementing legislation to provide longer term sanctions relief beyond existing waiver authorities — either through suspension, repeal or amendment of statutory sanctions. Should negotiations fail or Iran violate the Joint Plan of Action, Congress will need to ensure that the legislative authority exists to rapidly and dramatically expand sanctions. We need to work together now to prepare for either eventuality.”

The lawmakers single out the heavy water reactor at Arak and the fortified enrichment plant at Fordow as facilities that should be dismantled.

Getting the letters signed was a face-saving priority for AIPAC, after the country's most powerful pro-Israel lobby failed to get the Senate to take up a bipartisan sanctions bill it helped craft. And in the House, Hoyer balked at endorsing a resolution with Cantor that would have defined what Congress wants to see in a final deal back in December. 

“Congress should now outline its vies about the essential ingredients of a final agreement, maintain rigorous oversight of the negotiations and the existing sanctions regime, and signal the consequences that will follow if Iran rejects an agreement that brings an end to its nuclear weapons program,” said Brad Gordon, AIPAC's director of policy and government affairs. He asked AIPAC members to press their lawmakers to sign on to the two letters.

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill