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As Deadline for Iran Deal Nears, Congress Makes Voice Heard

By Laura Hall

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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In November 2013, the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), negotiated between the P5+1 countries, including the United States, and Iran, gave negotiators six months to reach an agreement on the future of Iran’s nuclear program. In anticipation of this weekend’s July 20 JPA deadline, diplomatic leaders, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman, and members of the diplomatic corps from other P5+1 countries and Iran have converged on Vienna, hoping to announce a final deal in the coming days.

Iran has been a major topic of discussion across the Atlantic, as well. Late last week, a bipartisan group of more than 300 lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), reached out to President Barack Obama requesting greater consultation with Congress on a potential sanctions relief package that may be part of a final agreement. There have been similar bipartisan efforts to influence the terms of the deal in the Senate, led by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and foreign policy leaders Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

The spirit and intent of the efforts 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 authored by Gen. (ret.) Charles Wald, Sen. Charles Robb (D-VA) and Foreign Policy Project Director Blaise Misztal, 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 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.”

Cooperation between the executive and legislative branches are critical to the success of a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program. As we approach the July 20 deadline, while foreign policy observers are watching Vienna, they would be wise to also keep an eye on Capitol Hill.

To further explore the importance of the congressional role in an Iran deal, join BPC tomorrow from noon to 2:00PM in 902 Hart Senate Office Building for High Standards and High Stakes: Defining Terms of an Acceptable Iran Deal. The event, which BPC is hosting with the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, will feature an expert panel as well as remarks from several prominent bipartisan Members of Congress from the House and Senate who are the leading voices on Iran.

KEYWORDS: PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, IRAN, NUCLEAR WEAPONS, JOHN KERRY, P5+1 COUNTRIES, ELIOT ENGEL, ED ROYCE, JAVAD ZARIF, WENDY SHERMAN