As Foreign Relations Committee Democrats begin to float amendments to legislation designed to give Congress a voice in a nuclear security agreement with Iran, one of them is asking the panel's chairman to delay the measure entirely.
"To force Congress to weigh in now on the Iran nuclear talks before a final deal has been completed would be a reckless rush to judgment. It would undermine negotiations at a critical moment and could derail a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deal with this looming threat," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote in a letter dated Wednesday to Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
Boxer cited a statement signed by a large bipartisan group of outside experts and leaders including former Foreign Relations Chairman Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., saying Congress should "take no action that would impede further progress or undermine the American negotiators’ efforts to complete the final comprehensive agreement on time."
Of course, Corker and the bipartisan group behind his legislation dispute the idea that providing for the legislative branch to weigh in on any final agreement between the United States, Iran and other countries involved in the discussions will undermine their ability to reach a final conclusion, even as the U.S. and the Iranians were already disagreeing about the terms of the initial framework.
Corker, who is a key player along with the acting ranking Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, received a call from President Barack Obama on Wednesday to discuss the Iran deal.
"The president said to him what he has said publicly, which is that he certainly has a lot of respect for the way that Chairman Corker has approached the situation; they have obvious differences. But the president made the case to him once again that the president believes that this principled approach to diplomacy is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday. "The conversation was not an opportunity for the two men to negotiate the terms of any sort of legislation, but rather just an opportunity for the President to speak directly to the chairman to underscore his view about the opportunity that now exists."
Corker has spent the recess week in Tennessee, holding a variety of town hall meetings and other events across his home state, where local news reports say that the Iran review legislation he's crafted with New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez has been a hot topic.
The Kingsport Times-News reported on what Corker told an audience Wednesday at a Rotary Club in Northeast Tennessee about the debate over the Obama administration's efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear development.
"If Iran continues in their current behavior and we enter into an agreement that doesn't keep them from getting a nuclear weapon, then we have a situation where a country has access to huge amounts of money, their economy is growing and they can continue the destabilizing activities they've been involved in, and they in a very short amount of time could have a nuclear weapon," Corker said. "You’re dealing with a country that hasn't yet changed its behavior."
Because it seems unlikely that Corker will heed Boxer's call to delay next week's mark-up, Democrats have already begun to file amendments. Boxer's letter indicates she's drafted an amendment designed to forestall congressional action.
And Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware wants to strike out language requiring a certification that Iran isn't supporting terrorist acts that could affect the United States, something that's been outside the scope of the prospective agreement. The bill as drafted sets up an expedited process for Congress to move on sanctions if that certification requirement goes unmet.
Coons does include language to express the sense of Congress about the importance of the legislative body being able to act as needed.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., has filed a similar amendment according to an aide. It also would make sure to be clear that the Congress could act to impose sanctions on Iran over the country's support for terrorism. Murphy also has an amendment that would grant the president authority to waive sanctions during any period of congressional review if not doing so would run afoul of the negotiated agreement.
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