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 »
AP KEEPING COUNT
Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
1 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Source:
THE QUESTION
What Did Sen. Cotton Say About Harry Reid?
44 minutes ago
THE ANSWER

That the minority leader curses the Senate with his "cancerous leadership." After Reid tried to halt a defense bill, Cotton took to the floor and blasted Reid, adding, "As a junior senator, I preside over the Senate. I usually do in the morning, which means I'm forced to listen to the bitter, vulgar, incoherent ramblings of the Minority Leader. Normally, like other Americans, I ignore them."

Source:
TRUMP FLOATED IDEA ON JIMMY KIMMEL’S SHOW
Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
1 hours ago
THE LATEST
CAMPAIGNS INJECTED NEW AD MONEY
California: It’s Not Over Yet
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.

Source:
SUPPLY DROPPING
Brent Crude Rises Above $50/Barrel
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Brent crude rose above $50 a barrel for the first time in more than six months as a decline in U.S. stockpiles accelerated a rebound from a 12-year low. Futures climbed as much as 1.1 percent in London to $50.26, the highest intraday price since Nov. 4, after climbing 2.9 percent the previous two sessions. U.S. inventories shrank more than expected last week, government data showed, while supplies have also been curtailed in Nigeria, Venezuela and Canada."

Source:
×