Senate nearly unanimous in backing bill mandating Iran deal review


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that would require congressional review of any Iran nuclear deal.

The bill, which was approved Thursday in a 98-1 vote, requires a review of any deal between Iran and the major powers for at least 30 days before the president relieves sanction pressure on Iran.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and its ranking Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., worked to shape the bill into one that would have the support of Democrats and avoid a veto by President Barack Obama.

The final bill excised requirements that would have shaped the agreement and instead subjects the deal to an up or down vote after its congressional review.

Democrats had objected to the requirements, including demands that Iran end its backing for terrorism and recognize Israel, saying they would sabotage talks that are focused only on Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Obama said he would veto a bill with any such requirements.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, introduced debate on the bill, saying it was the best that could be obtained under the circumstances.

“If we didn’t face the threats of filibusters or the blocking of amendments or the threats of presidential vetoes, this bill would be a heck of a lot stronger, I assure you, but the truth is we face all these things,” he said.

“This Congress is determined to pursue other avenues to address Iran’s aggressive campaign of expansion and intimidation in the months to come,” McConnell said without laying out particulars.

The sole dissenter was Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who opposes the talks and had tried to amend to the bill some of the requirements rejected by Democrats.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which backed the bill as the only way to achieve bipartisan support, applauded the passage.

“This important legislation provides Congress a mechanism to assert its historic foreign policy role and review any agreement to ensure it meets U.S. objectives, prevents relief of congressionally-imposed sanctions if it disapproves of the agreement, and requires the administration to report on Iran’s compliance with a deal,” AIPAC said in a statement.

The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, which is expected to take it up next week.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that she would work to “quickly pass” a similar measure.

“Congress has, and must continue to play, an indispensable oversight role so that we can be assured any final deal permanently and verifiably prevents Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” she said.

Separately, 151 Democrats in the House wrote Obama on Thursday saying that they backed continued talks between Iran and the major powers. The sides must arrive at a final deal by June 30.

“We must allow our negotiating team the space and time necessary to build on the progress made in the political framework and turn it into a long-term, verifiable agreement,” said the letter initiated by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, and David Price, D-N.C.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly opposes the emerging deal, saying it will leave Iran on the threshold of acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Obama says the talks and the likely deal are the best option to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

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