The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Decision to Give Congress a Veto on the Iran Deal


Earlier today, Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) negotiated compromise language that makes very minimal adjustments to the earlier version of Corker's bill, S. 615, "The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.” The revised bill was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and will go to the floor of the Senate and eventually the House in the coming weeks.

We have expressed deep concerns about the legislation for several weeks. The proposal is still very troublesome and unnecessary in a number of respects—even though it has, through the meat grinder of partisan politics, made it through the committee with strong bipartisan support.

The congressional review period has been slightly adjusted but would still create a long period of review that could very well lead Iran to delay the nuclear-related actions that the deal requires of them. The previous “no terrorism” certification provision is effectively gone, but was probably only inserted into the bill as a bargaining chip.

Fundamentally, however, the bill still would enable those in the Congress who would want to kill the emerging P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal by setting up a vote in the House and the Senate on the agreement. This could very well lead each chamber to vote “no” on the arrangement, if only for political reasons.

This vote would lead to a Presidential veto that I believe would be sustained with the support of at least one-third of the members in each chamber, but even then, the agreement and U.S. credibility could be irreparably damaged as a result of the process.

It is also important to keep in mind that even after approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in this slightly revised form, this bill must still run the gauntlet of amendments and debate on the House and the Senate floors, and over the course of that process it could change for the better or the worse.

The bottom line is that the Corker legislation unnecessarily complicates the negotiation and the implementation of an effective multilateral arrangement between the permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, also known as the P5) and Germany with Iran that promises to effectively and verifiably block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons and does so even though there is no better nuclear deal on the horizon and no other viable alternative for reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity.

For now Iran’s leaders will probably watch all of this closely and will be careful not to take any action that disrupts the talks, especially given that U.S. lawmakers are setting up a process that could give those who want to kill an effective deal an opportunity to do so. However, Iranian legislators may also choose to adopt a similar “review” mechanism and/or up-or-down vote that could complicate implementation.

Another effect of a congressionally-mandated up-or-down vote that takes place many weeks after a final comprehensive deal is concluded could very well be that Iran delays the key actions we want them to take to roll back their nuclear capacity and open up to further inspection and transparency while they await the outcome of the up-or-down Congressional votes.

If there is a Congressional “no” vote on the comprehensive P5+1 agreement with Iran, the president vetoes the resolution and the veto is sustained, that could still create difficulties down the line.

Any member of Congress who takes the step of voting against the P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal the first time may find it harder to vote "yes" at at later point for the removal of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions necessary for the implementation of the agreement.

And a “no” vote by the Congress on the agreement, or the failure by the United States to follow through on its commitments, would hand the hardliners in Iran a propaganda victory of international proportions and could open the door to the expansion of Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the erosion of the existing international sanctions architecture.

Those who are truly interested in a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear challenge should follow the medical dictum of “first do no harm.”