House majority demands Obama consult Congress on Iran nuclear deal

More than three-quarters of the House are demanding President Obama consult with Congress on any final nuclear agreement with Iran as the deadline for negotiations nears.

“Any permanent sanctions relief demands congressional approval,” 344 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle wrote in a letter sent to Obama on Thursday.

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The Obama administration has said a final agreement with Iran could bring its government phased relief from sanctions tied to its nuclear activity.

Diplomats are currently in Vienna, Austria, working toward a July 20 deadline to strike a deal, though recent reports said negotiators were making little progress

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), gathered support for the letter. The letter was also signed by other top lawmakers including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

The lawmakers referred to remarks Secretary of State John Kerry recently made at a congressional hearing in which he suggested Congress would be kept in the loop if a deal is struck.

“Well, of course. We would be obligated to under the law,” Kerry was quoted as saying. He added: “What we do will have to pass muster with Congress.” 

“We strongly agree with the Secretary’s assessment, and believe the final agreement must verifiably ensure that Iran is denied an undetectable nuclear weapons breakout capability,” the letter says.

The lawmakers expressed concern, however, over the boundaries of sanctions relief, which appear to be murky. U.S. law, they said, doesn’t exclusively define the sanctions against Iran as “nuclear-related” and instead apply toward many other areas.

“Almost all sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program are also related to Tehran’s advancing ballistic missile program, intensifying support for international terrorism, and other unconventional weapons programs,” they wrote, adding that many sanctions also prevent Iranian banks from involvement in terrorism, proliferation and money laundering. 

Therefore, the lawmakers suggested sanctions relief wouldn't be immediate or direct. 

“Iran's permanent and verifiable termination of all of these activities — not just some — is a prerequisite for permanently lifting most congressionally-mandated sanctions. This often unnoted reality necessitates extensive engagement with Congress before offers of relief are made to Iran, and requires Congressional action if sanctions are to be permanently lifted,” they added. 

Obama administration officials say Iran has so far abided by the six-month interim agreement that has frozen its nuclear program. In the beginning stages of the deal, lawmakers threatened to introduce legislation that would impose further sanctions if Iran violated the deal’s requirements, but they eventually backed down amid opposition from the White House.

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