Obama’s battle with Congress

US president faces opposition to Iran nuclear deal from both chambers of Congress controlled by Republican Party.

Minutes after the framework deal to limit Iran’s nuclear programme was announced in Lausanne, Switzerland, President Barack Obama began selling the contents of the proposed agreement to the US Congress, arguing that reaching a deal with Iran was the best option for the US.

He reminded members of the Congress and the American people that in the view of the White House, there are just three options for the future: reach a deal with Iran, bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities leading to a wider war in the Middle East or pull out of negotiations, which could in turn, lead to Iran advancing its nuclear programme.

That’s why Obama used his Rose Garden speech to directly challenge his Congressional critics.

“Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, and backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?” Obama said.

The US president said he’s instructed his negotiators to fully brief Congress on the substance of the deal.  He also said he welcomed what he called, “robust debate” on the specifics of the framework agreement.

Republican distrust

Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, and backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?

Barack Obama, President of the US

That debate could come quickly. There are many US lawmakers who feel strongly that it’s the US Congress, not the White House, that should have final say on any US deal with Iran.

There’s also deep distrust, that Iran will not live up to the terms of any final negotiated agreement.

“If President Obama truly believes that this ‘framework’ for a deal will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, he ought to be able to conclusively prove it to Congress, and more importantly, to the American people,” said Republican Senator, Ron Johnson.

That’s why the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee is pushing ahead with a planned April 14 vote on legislation, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,  that would require congressional review of any nuclear deal reached by June 30.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the “stakes are high” and given what he called Iran’s “long history of covert nuclear weapons-related activities” any final agreement must be reviewed by the Congress.

“The American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure the deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear programme and hold the regime accountable,” Corker said.

“Rather than bypass the Congress and head straight to the UN Security Council as planned, the administration first should seek the input of the American people.”

Democrats urge patience

Still, the top Democratic Senator, Harry Reid, urged his colleagues against what he called “rash action” that could undermine success and called on his colleagues to examine the details of the agreement and allow for the final details to be worked out in advance of the June 30 deadline.

“I am cautiously optimistic about this framework. We must always remain vigilant about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but there is no question that a diplomatic solution is vastly preferable to the alternatives,” Reid said.

It’s a position echoed by another prominent Democratic Senator, Barbara Boxer, who urged her colleagues to be patient and let the deal be worked out, before taking any legislative action.

“If the US had prematurely ended talks on nuclear issues in the past, we would never have had historic and critical international agreements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the New START Treaty,” Boxer said.

“The Obama administration has worked tirelessly to reach this point and I will work to ensure that Congress has the patience to support this diplomatic effort because the risks of walking away from the table are simply too high.” 

Public back Congress

Rather than bypass Congress and head straight to the UN Security Council as planned, the Administration first should seek the input of the American people

Bob Corker, Republican senator

The view that the US Congress should have the opportunity to review and vote on an agreement is backed by the US public.

Most Americans support an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear activities.

However, in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Americans signalled it is Congress, not the White House, that should have “final authority for approving any agreement”.

The co-sponsor of the legislation being reviewed on April 14, Democratic Senator, Bob Menendez agrees.

In a statement he said, “Congress must fulfill its oversight responsibilities … If diplomats can negotiate for two-years on this issue, then certainly Congress is entitled to a review period of an agreement that will fundamentally alter our relationship with Iran and the sanctions imposed by Congress.”

If passed into law, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act would require the final details of the agreement, to be worked out by the end of June, to be submitted to the US Congress for a period of 60 days before congressionally mandated sanctions on Iran could be lifted. 

It is legislation President Obama has vowed to veto, should it be passed by the Congress.

Still, Obama acknowledged that the Congress can and should play a constructive oversight role.

He said that process will begin immediately when members of the administration begin speaking to leaders in both the US Senate and House of Representatives.

Still, Obama cautioned members of Congress about the costs of derailing his administration’s diplomatic efforts for the sake of domestic political point scoring.

Speaking from the White House, Obama said “the issues at stake here are bigger than politics. These are matters of war and peace…if Congress kills this deal … then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy”.

Source: Al Jazeera


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