Last weekend, while much of the foreign policy community was focused on the turmoil in Ukraine, congressional leaders reached out to the White House on another issue of international significance: preventing a nuclear Iran. In a rare bipartisan and bicameral overture, House and Senate leaders announced Sunday that they intend to send letters to President Obama urging the White House to include Congress in any final nuclear deal it negotiates with Iran.
The letters, spearheaded by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in the House, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the Senate, ask President Obama to work with the House and Senate when negotiating a final deal with Iran, highlight the sense of Congress that such any deal should contain stringent limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, so that it cannot pursue a nuclear weapon, and reiterate their support for additional economic sanctions should Iran violate the terms of the interim agreement or if a final deal is not reached.
The spirit and intent of the letters echo a Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) call for improved cooperation between the White House and Congress on preventing a nuclear Iran released late last year. The white paper from BPC’s Iran Initiative, co-chaired by Gen. (ret.) Charles Wald and Sen. Charles Robb (D-VA), noted that both legislative and executive action is necessary in order to reach a successful diplomatic solution to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. Offering meaningful sanctions relief, which many believe will be critical in final deal negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations, requires coordination and cooperation between the administration and Congress.
According to BPC, current U.S. sanctions against Iran “are a complex mix of legislation and Executive Orders, with different conditions for waiving, suspending or repealing. Thus, the White House, which is responsible for conducting talks, is unlikely to be able to unilaterally grant Iran all of the relief needed to make a final deal stick. Members of Congress, on the other hand, who have expressed concern that a final deal might not do enough to prevent a nuclear Iran, have little ability to guide the direction of negotiations but can determine whether to repeal many sanctions or not. In short, both legislative and executive action will be needed to reach a successful diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program.”
The House letter echoes BPC’s call for cooperation between the White House and Congress, stating that “because any long-term sanctions relief will require Congressional action, we urge you to consult closely with us so that we can determine the parameters of such relief…or, if no agreement is reached or Iran violates the interim agreement, so that we can act swiftly to consider additional sanctions.”
The Senate letter, also signed by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), echoes these sentiments, stating that, “Congress has a continuing role to play to improve the prospects for success in the talks with Iran.”
Both letters are currently circulating in their respective chambers in hopes of adding additional signatories before being sent on to the President for review. As BPC notes, cooperation between the White House and Capitol Hill is crucial to the success of negotiating a final deal with Iran. We are optimistic that last weekend’s developments will be a step in the right direction.