Iran Deal Faces Test in Congress

By Steven Dennis

Roll Call

July 14, 2015

President Barack Obama’s Iran deal will face a moment of truth in Congress within the next three months, but seems very likely to clear that hurdle.

Under the law Congress passed to ensure its review of any Iran deal, opponents of the deal have to be able to override a veto on a disapproval resolution to stop it from going into effect. That’s a tall order, with 290 House votes and 67 in the Senate needed to assure an override.

The 60-day review period begins once all of the paperwork gets submitted to Congress, per a statement from Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. That delay would be extended by up to 12 days if the House and Senate send a joint resolution to the president, and Congress would have 10 more days after that to consider an override.

The bottom line: Unless Democrats abandon the president wholesale, the deal will stick.

The administration is already declaring any congressional effort that would block the deal pointless because the world coalition would not hold together to maintain sanctions on Iran.

One senior administration official said a vote to kill the deal is, in effect, “a vote to kill the sanctions regime” as a result.

After the review period, Obama can waive the sanctions on his own — and other sanctions can be waived via the United Nations Security Council, which has imposed a host of sanctions over the past decade aimed at Iran’s nuclear program.

For the president, it’s a moment that his administration has been hoping for since the beginning — a signature diplomatic achievement that validates, in the administration’s view, the use of diplomatic power, and his oft-repeated line during the 2008 campaign that the United States should never be afraid of talking to its enemies.

“Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off, and the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place,” Obama said. (Read the full transcript here.) “Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb.”

The 98 percent reduction in Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium takes it from having enough material to make 10 nuclear bombs to a fraction of one bomb, Obama said, in a limit that will last for 15 years.

He also touted a permanent inspections regime that will give far broader access to Iran’s nuclear program — Obama said they will have access to wherever they need to go when they need it — to prevent another round of cheating.

And on the key question raised in recent days by Senate Democrats and even Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey — maintaining the arms embargo including an embargo on Iran’s ballistic missile program — administration officials said the deal would maintain each for a period of time as Iran shows it is complying with the overall regime.

The arms embargo would last for another five years and the ballistic missile embargo would last another eight years.

Efforts to fight the deal with Iran have been underway for months, of course, with many in Congress — and some allies of Israel in particular — upset over any continuing of a nuclear program by Iran, even one with a dramatically reduced stockpile of uranium and inspectors watching every stage of the process needed to mine, process and enrich uranium or plutonium — two of the pathways for building a bomb.

The biggest effect of the deal on American politics could end up being its impact on the Republican presidential primary, with many of the candidates saying they would ratchet up sanctions on Iran, not waive them. But by then the global sanctions regime implemented over the past decade will have been dismantled — although under threat of being restored if Iran is caught cheating on the deal.

The White House has already suggested repeatedly that opposing the deal is akin to supporting another war in the Middle East.