Senate Approves Iran Nuclear Deal Bill

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, shakes hands with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. (Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, shakes hands with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.
(Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)

The Senate voted 98-1 Thursday to approve bipartisan legislation that would require President Obama to let Congress review – and possibly reject – any final nuclear deal with Iran.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., an outspoken opponent of the administration’s efforts, voted against the bill.

“The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act offers the best chance for our constituents, through the Congress they elect, to weigh in on the White House’s negotiations with Iran,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said before the vote to end debate on the bill. “And make no mistake, they need to have that opportunity.”

The bill still must be approved by the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he will urge its passage.

“This important bipartisan legislation will ensure that Congress has a role in reviewing any potential agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Boehner said after the Senate vote. “Our goal is to stop a bad agreement that could pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, set off a regional nuclear arms race, and strengthen and legitimize the government of Iran – which threatens Israel and other allies in the region, as well as supports terrorism throughout the Middle East.”

Negotiations on the deal between Iran, the USA and five other nations are scheduled to continue in Austria next week. Diplomats are trying to reach a final agreement by June 30 on a deal aimed at stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The legislation would prevent Obama from lifting congressionally mandated sanctions against Iran for at least 30 days to give lawmakers a chance to weigh in on the deal.

Senators – especially Republicans – remain skeptical that Iran will live up to any deal to restrict its nuclear capabilities. McConnell made it clear that he doesn’t like the interim agreement that has been reached.

“Rather than meaningfully roll back Tehran’s enrichment capability and dismantle its nuclear infrastructure, the interim agreement would actually permit Iran to become a ‘nuclear threshold’ state poised right at the edge of obtaining a nuclear weapon,” McConnell said.

He added that “a bad agreement seems far more likely to eventually lead to the kind of military conflict everyone wants to avoid than no agreement at all.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, who is leading the team of U.S. negotiators, told Israeli TV last weekend that the U.S. “will not sign a deal that does not close off Iran’s pathways to a bomb.”

Obama initially opposed any legislation that could derail a deal. However, he later said he would support the Senate bill after it became clear that it had bipartisan support. The compromise legislation from Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., was unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 14.

The White House has warned that it could withdraw its support of the bill if the legislation is changed significantly.

The bill stalled last week when Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, a presidential candidate, and Cotton tried to force a vote on amendments to require Iran to publicly support Israel’s right to exist and end its nuclear program entirely as part of any final deal. Democrats and some Republicans objected to the amendments, saying they were designed to derail a deal. McConnell moved Tuesday to end the stalemate by setting a vote on Thursday to end debate on the bill. That vote was followed by final passage.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said “poison pill” amendments aimed at preventing an agreement would only hurt efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“What we must do is not turn this bill into an instrument…to pave the path to war,” he said.

SOURCE: USA Today – Erin Kelly

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