Menendez shelves pro-Israel bill, cites last-minute Iran amendment

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee shelved for now a major pro-Israel bill over the attempt to insert language mandating a congressional review of any Iran nuclear deal.

Sen. Robert Menendez ((D-N.J.), the committee chair, said Tuesday that an amendment by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the committee’s senior Republican, arrived too late for consideration, so he was shelving the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act for now. Corker and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the principal sponsor of the act, met with Menendez on Tuesday.

Senate law already requires congressional review of any Iran nuclear deal, Menendez said. He also noted his own lead role in advancing tough Iran sanctions review policies, saying “there is no one in this Senate I will take a back seat to” when it comes to Iran.

Corker’s amendment would require congressional review of any deal emerging from nuclear talks now under way within three days of its signing.

Referring to reports that the Obama administration opposed the amendment as obstructionist, Corker said that unlike separate bills under consideration — including one originally backed by Menendez — his amendment does not require congressional review of the talks while they are underway but of the deal once it is finalized.

Corker also said his amendment was a natural fit for Boxer’s bill, which was introduced more than a year ago to coincide with the 2013 American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.

“If we’re going to have a strategic partnership with Israel, we constructed an amendment that in no way interferes with the process,” Corker said at the meeting. “It does not undermine the administration.”

AIPAC backed the Corker amendment, with a source at the lobby telling JTA that such provisions “underscore the key role that Congress must play in defining the terms of an acceptable deal and its implementation.”

Boxer expressed her frustration with the delay on her bill, which has 61 co-sponsors. The measure enhances cooperation in a range of areas, including cybersecurity and trade, as well as increases U.S. weapons stockpiles stored in Israel. It also advances Israel toward membership in the U.S. visa waiver program.

“I feel so disappointed after working for a year, but I hope we can all work together to get this bill hotlined,” she said, referring to a process that advances bills to the full Senate without debate or amendments.

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