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
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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.”

 

 

 

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