Congress demands that it be given every opportunity to wreck Iran talks

A Congress that has made doing nothing into an art form is getting very mad that the Obama administration might try an end-run around them if it comes time to start relieving sanctions against Iran:

Demanding a bigger role in the Iran nuclear negotiations, key Democrats are beginning to openly criticize the Obama administration for its plans to avoid an immediate vote on a deal aimed at reining in Tehran’s nuclear program.

“I disagree with the administration’s reported assertion that it does not need to come to Congress at this point during negotiations with Iran,” said New York’s Eliot Engel, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Democrat, in a statement on Tuesday.

“As negotiations continue on a deal to prevent a nuclear Iran, Congress cannot be circumvented,” New York’s Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Foreign Policy.

Despite the article’s “OMG EVEN LIBERAL DEMOCRATS ARE TURNING ON OBAMA OVER IRAN” tone, Engel and Israel are two of the most pro-war hawkish members of either party when it comes to Iran, so it’s completely unsurprising that they would both want to do everything in their power to wreck a negotiated settlement be consulted on the disposition of sanctions relief:

At issue is the administration’s plan to temporarily suspend economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic without a vote in Congress. The administration says that Congress will have the final word in deciding whether to permanently lift the sanctions — a concession that would only happen if Tehran demonstrates compliance on a host of restrictions to its nuclear program.

The dustup on the Hill follows a report in the New York Times that revealed a Treasury Department study concluding that President Barack Obama has the authority to suspend the “vast majority” of Iran sanctions without Congress — an authority the president plans to exercise if an agreement with Tehran can be reached.

The thing is, it is eminently more sensible for sanctions to be suspended, rather than lifted, in the early stages of an agreement. Assuming the deal is designed to be implemented in phases (and why wouldn’t it be?), you’d want to leave as much of the sanctions architecture in place as possible, while scaling back their actual effect as Iran met its milestone obligations. That’s the best way to ensure that the sanctions can be quickly re-applied if the agreement broke down at some point. It’s only at the very end of the entire process, when Iran has met all its obligations in full and everybody agrees that they can be treated as just another civilian nuclear state, that you would really want Congress to repeal the sanctions altogether. So not only does a short-term presidential suspension of the sanctions make sense from the perspective that Congress is kind of a dud these days, it also happens to be the best way to move forward in the immediate aftermath of a deal, and you don’t have to take my word for that:

Despite its unpopularity on the Hill, a number of non-proliferation groups have endorsed this strategy as the only viable way to secure a deal with Iran that’s durable and amenable to all sides.

“Congressional action at the outset of an agreement is premature,” said Kelsey Davenport, a director at the Arms Control Association. “In a final deal, when Iran’s commitment to a peaceful and verifiably limited nuclear program is well established, Congress will need to weigh in and lift sanctions. In the initial phases of an agreement, using presidential waivers to grant relief to Iran maintains the leverage created by sanctions and provides incentive to Iran to follow through on its obligations.”

Of course, the Congresspersons who are complaining about potentially being left out of the loop here don’t really care about implementing a deal at all. In fact, this whole dust up is yet another indication of a serious unwillingness to consider any deal on the part of both Congress and Congress’s boss, the American peop–HAHAHA I’m just effing with you, I mean Congress’s real boss, money:

Making matters more difficult for the administration, many lawmakers, egged on by powerful lobbying interests, are convinced that Obama will lift sanctions but fail to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon. For that reason, they want to maintain as much control over the talks as possible.

Leading the charge is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying organization that has promoted multiple congressional letters underscoring the legislative branch’s indispensable place at the negotiating table. “We have long supported a strong congressional role,” an AIPAC source said.

Yes, to the extent that “a strong congressional role” will only hurt the chances of reaching an agreement, and heighten the chances of a war, AIPAC has definitely supported it.


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