A bipartisan group of powerful House members agreed Wednesday to a resolution defining congressional expectations for a final nuclear deal with Iran, only to have a leading Democrat back out Thursday morning, National Journal Daily has learned.
The language was agreed to Wednesday night, according to congressional aides, after a week's worth of meetings between top leaders. The talks, initiated by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, were headlined by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, and ranking Democrat Eliot Engel.
The resolution was set to be introduced on the House floor Thursday, sources said, but Hoyer insisted that his colleagues hold off. It's unclear whether Hoyer wants to delay the resolution's introduction indefinitely, or just until lawmakers return from the holiday recess in early January.
"Mr. Hoyer believes Congress has the right to express its views on what should be included in a final agreement, but that the timing was not right to move forward this week," said Stephanie Young, Hoyer's spokeswoman.
The resolution harshly admonishes Iran for violating international agreements on uranium enrichment and ballistic-missile development, and for continuing production of materials that could produce nuclear weapons. It condemns Iran for sponsoring terrorism and human-rights abuses.
The resolution expressly states that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, and that Congress supports diplomatic negotiations but that all options need to remain on the table.
According to aides with knowledge of the talks, Hoyer requested certain changes to the language of the resolution on Wednesday night. When they were agreed to, all four members signed off, and Hoyer asked that the announcement not be made until Thursday morning. Then, on Thursday morning, Hoyer "backed off" the agreement, an aide said.
The group, which has emphasized strong bipartisan consensus on this issue, decided to hold off on introducing the resolution without Hoyer.
"I've always said that I think it's important for foreign policy to be bipartisan whenever possible," Engel had said on Wednesday night. He said then that while the group was "close" to an agreement, nothing would be introduced until all members involved were satisfied with the product.
Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper said, "The leader is disappointed we could not move ahead with the agreed-on resolution this week, but he will continue to work with Whip Hoyer, Chairman Royce, and Congressman Engel to get it to the floor as soon as possible."
The initial Iran agreement, reached late last month, softened some economic sanctions in exchange for Iran freezing parts of its nuclear program. But that deal, designed to create six months of negotiating space to reach a broader agreement, provoked a flurry of bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill.
The resolution agreed to on Wednesday calls for imposing additional sanctions on Iran if it violates the terms of the interim deal.
Cantor first informed his Republican colleagues last week that he and Royce were looking for Democrats who could work with them to craft language that would "speak volumes" about congressional expectations for an agreement.
Significantly, the resolution would go much further than the interim agreement with Iran in several ways.
On the subject of enrichment, the resolution states that it is "the policy of the United States that no nation, including Iran, has an inherent right to enrich uranium."
The resolution calls for "dismantlement of Iran's nuclear infrastructure ... such that Iran is prevented from pursuing both the uranium and plutonium pathways to a nuclear weapon."
The resolution notes that the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran has continued to enrich uranium as recently as November, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The language also lays out the threat posed by Iran, stating that it has approximately "19,000 centrifuges, which have the capacity to enrich uranium in a matter of weeks to levels that would provide sufficient fissile material for a nuclear explosive device."