A diplomatic agreement still remains the most desirable method for ensuring that Iran’s totalitarian regime does not acquire a nuclear weapons capability. But pursuing a deal that does not fully prevent such an outcome, only delays it, could be dangerous for our national security. And doing so without the involvement, and against the considered judgment, of Congress would certainly be dangerous to our nation’s already fragile civic health.

According to The New York Times, U.S. negotiators are considering how to structure a potential deal with Iran such that lawmakers need not approve it. The motivation for this approach stems from the fact that, since the United States and its international partners inked an interim deal with Iran almost a year ago, Capitol Hill and the White House have been at odds over both the means and ends of the negotiations.


A bipartisan majority in Congress wanted to strengthen negotiators’ hand by passing sanctions that would only be triggered if Iran reneged or backed out of talks; the administration argued additional sanctions would derail negotiations. Congress is opposed to allowing Iran to enrich uranium; the administration has suggested it could accept an arrangement under which Iran keeps all 19,000 of its centrifuges. Congress believes, given Iran’s history of deceiving international inspectors, that it cannot be trusted and strict limitations on its nuclear program need to be put in place indefinitely; yet international negotiators have already agreed that any deal will have an expiration date, after which Iran “will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state.”

Thus, the concern that Congress will reject a deal with Iran is a real one. But trying to bypass the legislative branch on an international issue of this magnitude is likely to be counterproductive. If an agreement is to have a chance of holding, lawmakers will have a real and necessary role to play, whether or not it is technically required. If they are denied it, the possibility of a lasting, peaceful solution to Iran’s nuclear ambition dwindles rapidly. Although any agreement with Iran will not be a treaty, and therefore will not require Senate ratification, it should none-the-less involve Congress.

If Tehran proves willing to make any concessions on its nuclear program—meager as recent reports suggest they are—it will be because of its desperate desire for relief from the sanctions strangling their economy. Some of those sanctions were put in place by executive order. But as our detailed Bipartisan Policy Center study shows, these account for only 35 percent of all relevant sanctions. The remainder were enacted through legislation. Their repeal, Iran’s ultimate motivation in negotiations, will require Congressional action.

Many of these sanctions, however, also include provisos that allow the president to waive or suspend them. It is presumably this authority the administration hopes to use to sidestep Congress. To do so, we believe, would be bad policy and worse politics.

Cutting Congress out of the process would make it no more likely that our fundamental national security priority—preventing a nuclear weapons-capable Iran—will be achieved. First, it would almost ensure that any deal is temporary. Sanctions can only be waived for 6 months at a time and there is no guarantee the next president would continue to do so. The political uncertainty surrounding such sanctions relief would make it highly likely that the agreement lapses in a matter of years, if not less. Indeed, renewing the interim deal would be preferable to pursuing a final agreement that is anything but.

Second, hell hath no fury like a Congress scorned. Denying lawmakers, who are already dissatisfied with the direction of negotiations, the opportunity to evaluate and weigh a deal would likely prompt them to push even harder for new sanctions on Iran. These could well pass—especially if Republicans win the Senate in two weeks—and derail any agreement made by the administration.

The repercussions for our democracy would also be severe. One issue has repeatedly motivated Congress, otherwise gridlocked with partisan acrimony, to act in near unanimity: preventing a nuclear Iran. Circumventing an engaged Congress through such a unilateral executive action would poison any remaining goodwill in Washington and deprive the representatives of the American people from a say in the most pressing national security issue of our day. It is hard to imagine how lawmakers in the next session would be willing to consider any of the president’s legislative agenda or confirm any of his nominees after such a snub.

Evading Congress, even when it is adverse, is not the way to secure our nation or fix our political system. The graver the challenge, the more important cooperation—whether between parties or between branches—becomes. With Iran, no deal is better than a bad deal. And in this case, a deal without Congress is a bad one.

Robb served Virginia in the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2001, and Virginia's governor from 1982 to 1986.  former Democratic governor and senator from Virginia. Wald is the former Deputy Commander of U.S. European Command. Robb and Wald are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Foreign Policy Project. Misztal is director of the Foreign Policy Project..