Expect Kerry, Congress to Clash Over Fragile Iran Nuclear Deal

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to deliver the keynote address at the 10th Anniversary Saban Forum, Power Shifts: US-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East, in Washington on December 7, 2013.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher and Stacy Kaper
See more stories about...
Sara Sorcher Stacy Kaper
Dec. 9, 2013, 5:18 p.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama thinks his ad­min­is­tra­tion has won a key vic­tory in strik­ing a nuc­le­ar ac­cord with Ir­an, and he’s ask­ing his sec­ret­ary of State to pro­tect it. But when John Kerry comes to Con­gress on Tues­day in the hopes of per­suad­ing Con­gress to back the pact, he should count on any­thing but a warm wel­come.

Mem­bers are already say­ing the in­ter­im deal between world powers and Ir­an does noth­ing to dull Tehran’s nuc­le­ar threat, and mem­bers of the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee are already sharpen­ing their knives: “Des­pite what the ad­min­is­tra­tion has said, this agree­ment does not hold Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram in its tracks,” Chair­man Ed Royce, R-Cal­if., told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily.

For Kerry, it will be a fa­mil­i­ar role: He’s fresh off a Middle East trip at­tempt­ing to re­as­sure al­lies about the Ir­an deal.

But the stakes are es­pe­cially high as a new round of talks re­sumes this week in Vi­enna. The White House has said ne­go­ti­ations might un­ravel if mem­bers of Con­gress fol­low through on threats to levy more sanc­tions, even if they take ef­fect down the road.

Mem­bers, however, are not ac­qui­es­cing. They fear sanc­tions re­lief will give Ir­an a “life­line” just as it’s be­gin­ning to cry uncle, Royce said, which could re­vive Ir­an’s eco­nomy and, even­tu­ally, al­low it to gain the cap­ab­il­ity to build a nuc­le­ar weapon.

Nail­ing down sanc­tions now — even if they are to be­gin after the six-month deal between world powers and Ir­an ex­pires or founders — would give the U.S. “some lever­age at the table,” Royce ar­gued. “Just be­cause the pres­id­ent wants to play with a weak­er hand doesn’t mean that Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress should ob­lige.”

In the Sen­ate, new sanc­tions to tar­get Ir­a­ni­an oil ex­ports and rev­en­ue, for­eign-ex­change re­serves held over­seas, and ad­di­tion­al sec­tors of the Ir­a­ni­an eco­nomy are un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. In the House, which passed sim­il­ar sanc­tions in June, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor is spear­head­ing a bill to nar­rowly define the terms of an ac­cept­able fi­nal nuc­le­ar deal.

Tues­day’s hear­ing may turn in­to a wonk­fest over con­ten­tious points on the ne­go­ti­ations, which aim to un­wind a dec­ade­long stan­doff over Tehran’s nuc­le­ar am­bi­tions.

Mem­bers of Con­gress — as well as many lead­ers in Is­rael — ob­ject to the agree­ment be­cause it does not re­quire Ir­an to sus­pend en­rich­ment and re­pro­cessing activ­it­ies. Crit­ics say it’s not enough that the Nov. 23 deal is meant to keep Ir­an’s urani­um en­rich­ment be­low 5 per­cent, far be­low weapons-grade levels, and neut­ral­ize its stock­pile of 20 per­cent-en­riched urani­um in ex­change for some $7 bil­lion in sanc­tions re­lief.

“It’s a ter­rible deal,” said House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mike Ro­gers, R-Mich., in a re­cent in­ter­view. “I do not be­lieve it’s in the world’s in­terest to al­low Ir­an to have the cap­ab­il­ity to en­rich and pro­cess urani­um.”

Ir­an is not ex­actly help­ing mat­ters, either, giv­en its con­tin­ued con­struc­tion of a plutoni­um re­act­or in Arak. Royce said law­makers from both sides of the aisle raised that is­sue last week dur­ing a clas­si­fied brief­ing with the State De­part­ment’s Wendy Sher­man and Treas­ury’s Dav­id Co­hen.

Amid the sus­pi­cion, there’s fresh gos­sip on Cap­it­ol Hill about a secret plan to con­strict Obama’s flex­ib­il­ity on sanc­tions. Al­though the pres­id­ent has the leg­al op­tion to waive the meas­ures tem­por­ar­ily if it is in the U.S. na­tion­al se­cur­ity in­terest, some aides on the Hill say Con­gress is seek­ing ways around him. “We have looked at how to re­strict the pres­id­ent’s abil­ity to end­lessly waive sanc­tions,” a Sen­ate aide said.

But all this may prove to be more bark than bite. Already there are fis­sures between those who say the deal is doomed to fail and those who want to give the White House a chance to ne­go­ti­ate. “None of us here take great stock of these nu­mer­ous le­gis­lat­ive pro­pos­als on Ir­an sanc­tions,” said one House Demo­crat­ic aide.

The longer Con­gress waits and dip­lo­mat­ic talks con­tin­ue, the “less ap­pet­ite there is to pass le­gis­la­tion that could some­how un­der­mine the pro­gress or im­ple­ment­a­tion of the in­ter­im agree­ment — es­pe­cially when there’s ab­so­lutely no way the pres­id­ent is go­ing to al­low any­thing like this to be­come law,” the aide said. “It’s just tough talk.”

What We're Following See More »
IN ADDITION TO DNC AND DCCC
Clinton Campaign Also Hacked
1 hours ago
THE LATEST
1.5 MILLION MORE TUNED IN FOR TRUMP
More People Watched Trump’s Acceptance Speech
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Hillary Clinton hopes that television ratings for the candidates' acceptance speeches at their respective conventions aren't foreshadowing of similar results at the polls in November. Preliminary results from the networks and cable channels show that 34.9 million people tuned in for Donald Trump's acceptance speech while 33.3 million watched Clinton accept the Democratic nomination. However, it is still possible that the numbers are closer than these ratings suggest: the numbers don't include ratings from PBS or CSPAN, which tend to attract more Democratic viewers.

Source:
AFFECTS NOVEMBER ELECTIONS
North Carolina Voter ID Law Struck Down
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned North Carolina's 2013 voter ID law, saying it was passed with “discriminatory intent." The decision sends the case back to the district judge who initially dismissed challenges to the law. "The ruling prohibits North Carolina from requiring photo identification from voters in future elections, including the November 2016 general election, restores a week of early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect."

Source:
NORTH DAKOTA TO ILLINOIS
Massive Oil Pipeline Approved for the Midwest
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

An oil pipeline almost as long as the much-debated Keystone XL has won final approval to transport crude from North Dakota to Illinois, traveling through South Dakota and Iowa along the way. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the final blessing to the Dakota Access pipeline on Tuesday. Developers now have the last set of permits they need to build through the small portion of federal land the line crosses, which includes major waterways like the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The so-called Bakken pipeline goes through mostly state and private land."

Source:
DISAPPOINTING RESULTS
GDP Grew at 1.2% in Q2
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The U.S. economy grew at an anemic 1.2% in the second quarter, "well below the 2.6% growth economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast." Consumer spending was "robust," but it was offset by "cautious" business investment. "Since the recession ended seven years ago, the expansion has failed to achieve the breakout growth seen in past recoveries. "The average annual growth rate during the current business cycle, 2.1%, remains the weakest of any expansion since at least 1949."

Source:
×