Does Congress Have a Role in the Iran Nuclear Negotiations?

October 29, 2014, Washington, D.C. – Last week, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration will sidestep Congress if a deal on Iran’s nuclear program is reached by the November 24th deadline. The news elicited concerns by some lawmakers that Congress will be shut out of the nuclear negotiations and lead to a ‘bad deal’ with Iran.  

The White House believes that a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China, and Germany) would not constitute a formal treaty and thus would not require the consent of the Senate.  However, a number of lawmakers are calling for Congress to play a larger role in the nuclear negotiations.       

The lawmakers’ concern stems from the President’s ability to temporarily suspend sanctions against Iran without Congressional approval.  A recent report published by the Atlantic Council and written by Ken Katzman, a senior Iran analyst at the Congressional Research Service, concludes that the easiest way for the Obama administration to implement sanctions relief negotiated in a final nuclear deal is to exercise its waiver authority, which is available for those sanctions Iran is demanding  and be eased as part of the final deal.  

“I disagree with the administration’s reported assertion that it does not need to come to Congress at this point during negotiations with Iran,” said ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel (D-NY-17).  

Speaking with Business Insider, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH-8) stated, “The House is not going to sit idly by if and when the administration brokers a bad deal with Iran that compromises our principles and allows it to continue its nuclear ambitions.”

In response to the concerns raised by lawmakers, the White House has tried to allay fears in Washington by clarifying that Congress has and will continue to play a vital role in the Iran nuclear negotiations through close consultation with the President on the terms of an agreement. Administration officials also emphasized that Congress must ultimately make the final decision to permanently remove or maintain sanctions on Iran.  However, at the onset, they believe the best way to ensure that Iran adheres to the terms of any agreement is a step-by-step suspension with the ability of the President to reinstate sanctions in case of non-compliance.  

In a letter to lawmakers, a number of non-proliferation and foreign policy organizations last week supported the White House’s strategy and pointed out that Congress gave the President authorization to waive sanctions on Iran in “every piece of legislation it has passed on the subject.”        

PAAIA’s national public opinion surveys show that a majority of Iranian Americans support President Obama’s handling of the nuclear negotiations with Iran and want to see the issue resolved diplomatically. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of Iranian Americans would support the removal of sanctions if a permanent agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is reached. 

Survey results show that Iranian Americans have deep ties to the people of Iran. They want to see an Iran that is democratic and respects human rights and are supportive of measures that would facilitate greater understanding between the peoples of the U.S. and Iran. 

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