Lawmakers Not Happy With Iran Talks”“but Aren’t Meddling

Senators question administration’s tactics, but stop short of threatening to dictate them.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez during a March hearing. The New Jersey Democrat introduced legislation approving U.S. nuclear trade with Vietnam -- with an intriguing rider.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Stacy Kaper
July 29, 2014, 9:13 a.m.

There is little faith on Cap­it­ol Hill that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ne­go­ti­ations with Ir­an will thwart its nuc­le­ar-weapons ob­ject­ives — but there also ap­pears to be little ap­pet­ite to in­ter­fere.


Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee mem­bers, many of whom were push­ing le­gis­la­tion earli­er this year to im­pose ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions on Ir­an if nuc­le­ar talks fail, laid out sev­er­al mis­giv­ings with the state of ne­go­ti­ations Tues­day.  But the pan­el’s lead­ers stopped short of threat­en­ing to meddle with le­gis­la­tion to rein in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lee­way to waive sanc­tions or to dic­tate the terms of a deal with Ir­an. An ini­tial six-month ne­go­ti­at­ing win­dow with Ir­an was ex­ten­ded by four months Ju­ly 18.


In­stead, at a hear­ing on the state of ne­go­ti­ations with State and Treas­ury de­part­ment of­fi­cials, com­mit­tee mem­bers ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with the four-month ex­ten­sion to con­tin­ue ne­go­ti­at­ing with Ir­an, dis­trust in Ir­an’s com­mit­ment to upend­ing its path to nuc­le­ar weapons, and con­cerns about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s tac­tics.


Com­mit­tee Chair­man Robert Men­en­dez, a New Jer­sey Demo­crat who led the most re­cent Ir­an sanc­tions le­gis­lat­ive ef­fort, ques­tioned how Ir­an’s re­cent de­ten­tion of three Amer­ic­an journ­al­ists can be tol­er­ated at the ne­go­ti­at­ing table. He also made clear that giv­en Ir­an’s track re­cord, he ex­pects strict mon­it­or­ing of people, places, and doc­u­ments — bey­ond In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency stand­ards. He wants to chart Ir­an’s de­vel­op­ment to date and to veri­fy Ir­an is not pro­gress­ing on any nuc­le­ar-weapons pro­gram, if a deal is reached.


“What op­tions are on the table for ad­dress­ing the pos­sible mil­it­ary di­men­sions of Ir­an’s pro­gram?” Men­en­dez asked. “As­sum­ing a good deal that we could all em­brace, what is go­ing to be crit­ic­al after 20 years of de­cep­tion is the mon­it­or­ing and veri­fic­a­tion re­gime.”


Men­en­dez also stressed that he does not trust Tehran and was skep­tic­al that much would change dur­ing the ex­ten­ded timeline for ne­go­ti­ations.


“I will not sup­port an­oth­er ex­ten­sion of ne­go­ti­ations,” he said re­fer­ring to the new Nov. 24 dead­line. “At that point, Ir­an will have ex­hausted its op­por­tun­it­ies to put real con­ces­sions on the table and I will be pre­pared to move for­ward with ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions.”


Sen. Bob Cork­er, the pan­el’s rank­ing mem­ber, made plain he has con­cerns with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s meth­ods. He de­man­ded (but was un­able to get) as­sur­ances from the ad­min­is­tra­tion that the Nov. 24 ne­go­ti­at­ing win­dow would be held as a firm dead­line to either ex­tract a deal or to cut off talks with Ir­an and re­sume sanc­tions that have been eased. He also asked for a guar­an­tee that the ad­min­is­tra­tion would come back to Con­gress if it de­cided to fur­ther sus­pend cer­tain sanc­tions against Ir­an at that time.


But Wendy Sher­man, the un­der­sec­ret­ary of State for polit­ic­al af­fairs, only prom­ised to keep Con­gress in­formed throughout the pro­cess. She noted that the pres­id­ent has to come to Con­gress in or­der to lift sanc­tions, but that Con­gress would have to act in or­der to take away the pres­id­ent’s power to sus­pend or waive them.


“Sen­at­or, the United States Con­gress and the United States Sen­ate has over­sight au­thor­ity, has le­gis­lat­ive au­thor­ity. You are free to de­cide what ac­tion you think is ap­pro­pri­ate for any ex­ec­ut­ive branch de­cisions by any ad­min­is­tra­tion.”


Cork­er voiced his frus­tra­tion, say­ing a prom­ise of a con­ver­sa­tion be­fore the ad­min­is­tra­tion acts uni­lat­er­ally is not the same thing as com­ing to Con­gress for con­sent, but he gave no in­dic­a­tion he would push it fur­ther.


“The world un­der­stands that is a zero com­mit­ment,” he said. “The goal­posts keep mov­ing and I think you can con­tin­ue this “¦ as evid­ence of why so many of us have the con­cerns we have.”




What We're Following See More »
Johnson on Ballot Everywhere, Followed by Stein, McMullin
50 minutes ago
Is McMullin Building the GOP in Exile?
2 hours ago

Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who may win his home state of Utah, is quietly planning to turn his candidacy into a broader movement for principled conservatism. He tells BuzzFeed he's "skeptical" that the Republican party can reform itself "within a generation" and that the party's internal "disease" can't be cured via "the existing infrastructure.” The ex-CIA employee and Capitol Hill staffer says, “I have seen and worked with a lot of very courageous people in my time [but] I have seen a remarkable display of cowardice over the last couple of months in our leaders.” McMullin's team has assembled organizations in the 11 states where he's on the ballot, and adviser Rick Wilson says "there’s actually a very vibrant market for our message in the urban northeast and in parts of the south."

Clinton Up 9 in USA Today Poll; Up 3 According to Fox
2 hours ago

A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds Clinton leads Trump by 9 points nationwide, 47% to 38%. A Fox News national poll has Clinton up just three points, 44% to 41% over Trump.

Too Many Potential Enrollees Paying Obamacare Penalties Instead
3 hours ago

One of the main reasons for the recent Obamacare premium hikes is that many potential enrollees have simply decided to pay the tax penalty for remaining uninsured, rather than pay for insurance. More than 8 million people paid the penalty in 2014, and preliminary numbers for 2015 suggest that the number approaches 6 million. "For the young and healthy who are badly needed to make the exchanges work, it is sometimes cheaper to pay the Internal Revenue Service than an insurance company charging large premiums, with huge deductibles."

Cruz: Eight Justices Could Be an Ongoing Situation
4 hours ago

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that "there was “precedent” for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices—appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election." Speaking to reporters in Colorado, Cruz said: "I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.