UPDATE: Senate Committee Approves Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015

UPDATE: Senate Foreign Relations Committee today approved the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015 by a margin of 19 to 0. The legislation was amended under compromise agreement between Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Senator Bob Croker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD).  The new version of the legislation would shorten Congress’ period for review of a potential deal with Iran from 60 to 30 days. The new version of the bill also excludes language that compels the president to certify that Iran does not support terrorist activities.  President Obama has indicated that he would sign the new version of the bill into law. The legislation is expected to be brought to floor of Senate for a vote within the next few weeks.  

April 13, 2015, Washington, D.C. – The framework agreement reached between the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China, and Germany) and Iran represents an important step towards resolving the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully. 

While the framework agreement provides a promising foundation to build on, many critical and difficult issues still remain as the P5+1 and Iran try to work out the details of a comprehensive final deal by the self-imposed deadline of June 30th.   

At the same time, the U.S. Senate is considering the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015.  The legislation, introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), would require congressional review and approval of any nuclear deal reached with Iran.  

PAAIA is concerned that the bill could potentially derail ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, impeding U.S. diplomacy and weakening our ability to maintain the international coalition cooperating on sanctions. If there is a perception that the U.S. is not negotiating in good faith, then enthusiasm to comply with U.S. and international measures will fade. 

President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation. The administration and its allies on Capitol Hill want Congress to hold off on any legislative action until the end of June.  “To force Congress to weigh in now on the nuclear talks before a final deal has been completed would be a reckless rush to judgment,” explained Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in a letter addressed to Senator Croker. 

Other Democrats are working to remove language from the legislation, which critics claim carry high risks of derailing the negotiations.The bill would prohibit the president’s ability to waive sanctions during a 60-day review period as well as tie the approval and implementation of any agreement to certification that Iran no longer provides support for designated terrorist organizations that run counter to U.S. interests.

In a statement published by the Iran Project on April 6th, over fifty former senior foreign policy and military leaders called on Congress to take no action that “would impede further progress or undermine the American negotiators’ efforts to complete the final comprehensive agreement on time.” Instead, the former government officials recommended that Congress examine and hold hearings on the framework agreement so that it could be fully discussed and debated. 

The desire by many members of Congress to weigh in on a final nuclear deal is a legitimate issue.  Congress will play an important role in the oversight and implementation of any nuclear deal.  However, if the passage of new legislation during this critical period of negotiations causes the breakdown of the diplomatic process, then military conflict —or an Iranian nuclear weapon—would become more, not less, likely. 

Furthermore, imposing new legislation now could also strengthen hardliners in Iran who want to see the collapse of diplomatic initiatives and alienate the Iranian people, who want their country to move in a different direction and engage the international community in a positive way.

Now is the time to allow our negotiators the space to secure a comprehensive and meaningful final agreement that would ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. The window to reach a deal is limited.  As negotiations proceed, the Senate should place passage of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015 on hold or amend it to ensure it does not derail the diplomatic process.

Click here for easily accessible information about the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the members of the P5+1. 

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