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Congress Acts: White House Reacts to Corker Bill

U.S. administration officials have indicated that President Obama would be willing to sign legislation that would give Congress the ability to approve or disapprove of a nuclear deal. The White House initially threatened to veto the Corker-Menendez bill, arguing that curbing the president’s powers could negatively impact negotiations. But after lawmakers made several changes, including shortening the review period for a final nuclear deal, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that "enough substantial changes have been made that the president would be willing to sign it.”

The “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” coauthored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) must still be passed in the full Senate and House of Representatives before becoming law. The following are excerpted remarks by U.S. officials.

 

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
 
“Despite the things about it that we don’t like, enough substantial changes have been made that the president would be willing to sign it.”
—April 15, 2015, according to the press
 
“If we arrived at a place where the bill that has passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support essentially is a vote to vote later on congressional sanctions and not the decision about whether or not to enter into the agreement, that would certainly resolve some of the concerns we’ve expressed about the authority that is exercised by the President of the United States to conduct foreign policy.
 
The second thing is, as you pointed out, the reports indicate that the link to this terrorism certification measure has been removed.  That certainly would be consistent with the objections that we raised earlier.  Shortening the review period is obviously an important part of this.  We wouldn’t want an unnecessarily -- or at least an unreasonable delay when it comes to implementing the agreement.
 
The other thing that we would want members of the committee in bipartisan fashion to confirm is that this piece of legislation would be the one and only mechanism for codifying precisely what the appropriate congressional oversight is into this matter, and to be specific about the way that Congress would vote on the sanctions that Congress put into place.
 
And that bipartisan agreement is critical to making sure, frankly, that there isn’t an untoward effort to insert a different provision into some sort of must-pass piece of legislation that could really gum up the works here.  So getting bipartisan agreement on that is important.
 
And then, finally, if we could clarify Congress’s role by taking all of these steps -- shortening the review period, being clear about what it is that they're voting on, making clear that this is a vote to vote later on congressional sanctions -- that that would actually achieve, at least in part, what the President has established as the priority here, which is to ensure that our negotiators have the time and space that's necessary to reach an agreement -- if one can be reached -- by the end of June.  And if presented with a compromise along the lines that I just laid out here, that would be the kind of compromise the President would be willing to sign.
—April 14, 2015, in a press briefing
 
Secretary of State John Kerry
 
“Yesterday there was a compromise reached in Washington regarding congressional input. We are confident about our ability for the president to negotiate an agreement and to do so with the ability to make the world safer.”
—April 15, 2015, according to the press

 

Congress Acts: Iran Reacts to Corker Bill

Iranian officials have dismissed the U.S. Senate Foreign Relation Committee’s approval of a bill that would give Congress the ability to approve or disapprove of a nuclear deal. “What the U.S. Senate, Congress and others say is not our problem,” President Hassan Rouhani said on April 15. In a televised speech, he also warned that without an “end to sanctions, there will not be an agreement” with the world’s six major powers.

The “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” coauthored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) must still be passed in the full Senate and House of Representatives before becoming law. The following are excerpted remarks by Iranian officials.
 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
“What the U.S. Senate, Congress and others say is not our problem. We want mutual respect ... We are in talks with the major powers and not with the Congress.”
 
“If there is no end to sanctions, there will not be an agreement. The end of these negotiations and a signed deal must include a declaration of cancelling the oppressive sanctions on the great nation of Iran.”
 

—April 15, 2015 in a televised speech
 
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham
 
“That [legislation] is an issue related to their domestic affairs. We are dealing with the American government.”
—April 15, 2015 in a press conference

 

Iran Nuclear Plan: Khamenei, Iran React

The following are excerpted statements by Iranian officials on the nuclear framework that was announced by the world’s six major powers and Iran on April 2.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

“Some people would ask why Leader has not yet taken a position on the recent nuclear statement; I would tell them there is no place for taking position at all, since our nuclear negotiators as well as the government say nothing special has happened and no binding agreement has been signed by the two sides.”

 
“If asked about my position about the negotiations, I would say neither I support nor I oppose the negotiations, since nothing special has happened yet; the crux of the matter and which is the most troublesome part as well is when it comes to painful details, which would push the negotiators, country, and the nation to the wall.”
 
 
“If anyone said the Leader opposed nuclear deal, it is an inaccuracy; I support a deal which secures our national interests and rights; however, I have said before that no deal is better than a bad deal, since it is preferred to a deal which violates the national rights and glory and denigrates our people.”
 
“I would clearly address here an ambiguity: Sometimes it is said that Leader oversees the details of the negotiations; this is also an inaccuracy. The overall framework of the affairs is communicated to the President and, in some cases, to the foreign minister; however, the details are up to them.”
 
 
“I have never been optimistic about the US; this pessimism has not been based on a whim; rather, it is years of experience which indicates that we should be pessimistic about the US intentions.”
 
“Our concerns and mistrust of the US are illustrated with the recent conduct of the White House, when it prepared a statement only two hours after the Lausanne joint statement, which was a distorted, politically motivated statement, and one which should not be trusted.”
 
 
“The Leader’s words addressed to the nation are based on mutual trust and as people trust me, I also trust the nation; here, I would have a recommendation to our officials; our nuclear negotiators and other authorities should sit with the prominent critics of the nuclear statement to find out what they say and use in their words what would be effective in the negotiations process…I stress that negotiations with the US would not go beyond the nuclear issue; and if they continue to deviate from the straight path, our reaction would be mistrust of them which is informed by our experience of their conduct.”
 
 
“I strongly insist that our officials not underestimate our current nuclear achievements; the nuclear industry is a necessity for our country; that some of the so-called intellectuals object that ‘why we would need nuclear industry?’ I believe, is deceiving the public.”
 


President Hassan Rouhani

 
“This will open a new chapter in cooperation with the world…
 
All of us should be after an agreement based on a win-win approach, common respect and common goals. Some think we should either fight with the world or give in to the powers. We believe there is a third option – a solution. We can cooperate with the world…
 
If others respect us, they will receive the same respect from our side. There should be respect in order to receive respect. Sanctions and pressures are worthless. This indicates that the administration’s approach has been the right one...
 
The objective that we’ve achieved today has been due to our unity and solidarity. We have consulted with all the officials and authorities and always benefitted from the guidelines of the leader of the revolution. He has generously provided us with the guidelines. I deem it necessary here to appreciate the leader and the head of the three branches of government…In the next step we need their support… “
—April 3, 2015 in a speech
 
 
“We have never negotiated the suspension of sanctions and if it were the case, there would be no agreement.”
 
“The world knows that there is no way but to [reach] agreement and understanding with Iran because the great, courageous and resistant Iranian people have stood by their ideals despite hardships.”
 
The world has come to the realization that Iran will not “yield to pressure and sanctions.”
 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has never sought to invade any country…but we will defend ourselves against anybody who intends to encroach upon the people’s rights.”
—April 5, 2015 in a meeting with a group of senior officials
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 

Good evening ladies and gentleman. Let me again thank you all for having followed our work. We’ve done significant work. If we look back at recent history, and if we succeed, we’ve taken a major step, but we’re still some time away from reaching where we want to be. If we succeed, this will be one of the few cases where an issue is resolved through diplomatic means, an issue of significance. And that would require an approach that would concentrate on a non-zero sum outcome, a win-win outcome. And that was my country’s approach to this from the very beginning.

We appreciate the work that every delegation has put to this. We have done significant work. We have made achievements. We have made progress. We have decided to take steps for a period of time to assure who had concerns, which we thought those concerns were misplaced anyway, that our program is exclusively peaceful, has always been and will always remain exclusively peaceful. Those--None of those measures include closing any of our facilities. The proud people off Iran would never accept that. Our facilities will continue. We will continue enriching. We will continue research and development. Our heavy water reactor will be modernized and we will continue the Fordo facility. We will have, as you will hear, centrifuges installed in Fordo but not enriching. We will remain committed to the agreement and we will not enrich in Fordo. We will continue, we will focus our enrichment in Natanz. And we will do other activities while keeping our centrifuges in Fordo for a time that we have agreed.   
 
At the same time, all Security Council resolutions will be terminated. All U.S. nuclear-related secondary sanctions as well as E.U. sanctions will be terminated -- while the term of art for each case may be terminate implementation or cease implementation or terminate application, whatever the word may be, so that people will not get into trouble with the legal institutions. But the effect of which will be, when we implement our measures, there won't be no sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

And that, I think, would be a major step forward. We have stopped a cycle that was not in the interest of anybody. Not in the interest of non-proliferation and not in the interest of anybody to one that will, in fact, be a gain for all parties concerned. And I hope that at the end of this process we will all show that true dialogue and engagement with dignity we can, in fact, resolve problems, open new horizons and move forward.
—April 2, 2015 at a press conference in Lausanne, Switzerland

 

 

—April 4, 2015 in an interview on national television
 
“I have told the western diplomats that Iran is capable of making an atom bomb anytime it wills, but the one and only fact that has stopped us from doing so is Ayatollah Khamenei’s Fatwa (an Islamic legal pronouncement) and not the sanctions and pressures levied at the country."
—April 7, 2015 in a briefing to parliament
 
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi
 
“[T]he language of threat and sanctions is not acceptable to us and the world has come to the conclusion that no threat and sanctions will work on the Iranian nation.”
“Iran’s nuclear program, including enrichment [activities], has been recognized in the recent statement in Lausanne and it is not seen as a threat anymore.”
—April 3, 2015 in a televised interview according to Press TV
 
Deputy Foreign Minister Mortea Sarmadi
 
“We have agreed on certain limitations which will not leave any impact on the normal course of our nuclear program; we have only excluded those parts that could cause concern in the international community. We have stopped 20%-grade uranium enrichment since we don’t need it for now.”
—April 6, 2015 during a visit to Tunisia via Anadolu news agency and Fars News
 
Head of the Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi
 
“We have agreed that Iran must join an international consortium so that the nuclear waste which poses a great environmental risk to Iran and the world as a whole to be safely transported out of the country."
—April 7, 2015 in a briefing to parliament

Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari
 
“The Islamic Revolution Guard Corps thanks the diplomacy machine for its sincere efforts and for its insistence on the red lines of the establishment.
 
“But, we are certain, as the esteemed president and foreign minister and members of the negotiating team have said the right to enrich uranium and maintain nuclear research and development and have all relevant sanctions lifted are the central demands of the Iranian people.
 
“In light of the idea of harmony and unanimity between the public and government, the Iranian people will support the diplomatic front as far as the nuclear issue is concerned and won’t allow the misleading interpretations of the [Lausanne] statement, particularly by the Americans, to dent the existing trust between them and their government.”
—April 7, 2015 in a meeting with IRGC commanders (translation via Iran Front Page)
 
Chairman of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi
 
“The Americans have acknowledged this (right) and the US president in his statement officially announced that they endorse Iran's enrichment.

“What Iran wanted eventually took place despite the plans proposed by the U.S., China and Russia; the Arak Heavy Water Reactor will continue to produce plutonium."
—April 5, 2015 in a statement
 
Basij Commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi
 
“The comments made after the Lausanne negotiations once again showed the United States’ strong grudge against the Iranians and proved that the US officials are liars and untrustworthy.
 
“After 9 days of breathtaking nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, the US president and other officials now deny the principal agreements and present opposing interpretations.
 
“They cite Iran’s undertakings, but fabricate and deny the commitments that they have made to the Iranian delegation.
 
“The Americans do not want to lose their main pressure leverage, and they are in a rush to strike a deal because inefficiency of the sanctions is growing increasingly evident, and in the near future no one would comply with them.”
—April 6, 2015 in an address to Basij militia personnel
 
Kazzem Jalili, head of Parliament’s Research Center
 
“We should be concerned about the attitude of the westerners because the wall of mistrust has grown so tall inside Iran; we remember the Sa’adabad agreement, the modal plan [of action between Iran and the IAEA] and the like that all show the other side has not fulfilled its commitment.”
 
“We should not pay heed to the Western propaganda … ; rather we should only show care for the written text.”
—April 5, 2015 to reporters
 
Member of Parliament Ali Motahari
 
The deal framework represents a “new stage in the life of the Islamic Revolution, and I hope that the signing of the final deal will be in the interests of the people of Iran, and brings about economic prosperity.”
—April 2015 according to the press
 
Member of Parliament Gholam-Ali Jafarzade
 
""The AEOI chief told the closed-door session of the parliament today that the Islamic Republic of Iran has acquired such a (high level of) power in the nuclear technology that this very power has forced the western side to see no way out but sitting to the negotiating table with Iran."

—April 7, 2015 according to the press

Photo credit: President.ir

 

Key Issues in Dispute on Nuke Deal

Conflicting interpretations crystallized over terms in the proposed nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers within days of the April 2 announcement. Washington and Tehran seem to have differing views on sanctions relief, advanced centrifuges, and international inspections. With talks set to resume April 21, negotiators from the seven nations face three months of potentially tough talks to work out their differences.
 
Divergent views became apparent after Iranian officials began criticizing details in the four-page factsheet released by the White House after the negotiations. In response, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has prepared its own fact sheet. But the foreign ministry has yet to publish it. The following are excerpted remarks from officials that illustrate the disputes on key issues.
 

Sanctions

Sanctions relief is the most contentious issue between Washington and Tehran. Iranian officials are calling for immediate and permanent sanctions relief. But U.S. officials claim that sanctions relief will be gradual, and that sanctions can be “snapped back into place” if Iran violates the terms of the agreement.

Iran

“On the basis of this framework, all sanctions in financial, economic and banking sectors as well as all (UN Security Council) sanctions resolutions against Iran will be canceled on the very first day of the implementation of the deal, and new cooperation in both nuclear and other sectors will start with the world on the same day.”
—President Hassan Rouhani, in a speech on April 3
 
“All Security Council resolutions will be terminated. All U.S. nuclear-related secondary sanctions as well as E.U. sanctions will be terminated…the effect of which will be, when we implement our measures, there won't be no sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, April 2, in a statement
 
 

United States

“In return for Iran’s future cooperation, we and our international partners will provide relief in phases from the sanctions that have impacted Iran’s economy.  And if we find at any point that Iran is not complying with this agreement, the sanctions can snap back into place.”
 
“The question of the sanctions…remains one of the issues of the timing – the exact timing and the exact process associated with it remains one of those issues that is going to be negotiated over the course of the next three months.  The commitment is to lift the economic and financial sanctions on the occasion of what I mentioned earlier on the nuclear side.  Beyond that, UN sanctions, others with respect to ballistic missile embargo, et cetera, those remain for negotiation.”
— Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement on April 2
 
“In return for Iran’s actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions -- our own sanctions, and international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.  This relief will be phased as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal.  If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place.  Meanwhile, other American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced.”
— President Barack Obama, in a statement on April 2
 

Advanced Centrifuges

Washington and Tehran also disagree on the type of centrifuges Iran is allowed to use to enrich uranium. Zarif and Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi reportedly told the Iranian parliament that Iran would begin operating IR-8 centrifuges, an advanced model that enriches uranium at a faster rate. The United States, however, has indicated that Iran will not be permitted to use advanced centrifuges for at least ten years.

Iran

"The AEOI chief and the foreign minister presented hopeful remarks about nuclear technology R&D which, they said, have been agreed upon during the talks (with the six world powers), and informed that gas will be injected into IR8 (centrifuge machines) with the start of the (implementation of the) agreement."
—Javad Karimi Qoddousi, member of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, following a closed-door session with Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi
 
"The negotiators should include use of the 8th generation of centrifuges (IR-8) in the final agreement."
—Head of parliament's nuclear committee Ebrahim Karkhaneyee, in the press on April 8
 

United States

"Iran will not enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years."
— President Barack Obama, in a statement on April 2

“Iran will not use its IR-2, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, or IR-8 models to produce enriched uranium for at least ten years. Iran will engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges, according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the P5+1.”
— White House fact sheet, released April 2
 

Inspections

Iran opposes any international inspections that would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to its military facilities. “Foreign monitoring on Iran’s security isn’t allowed,” said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. U.S. officials have not explicitly stated that inspections would include military facilities, but President Obama claimed inspectors would have "unprecedented access" to nuclear sites and any part of the "supply chain" that supports Iran's nuclear program. The U.S. factsheet emphasizes that inspectors will be able to investigate any "suspicious sites" of alleged covert enrichment activities and investigate possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program.
 
Iran

 

 

"Iran's military sites cannot be inspected under the excuse of nuclear supervision."
—Khamenei, in a speech on April 9
 
“Visiting military centers is among our redlines and no such visit will be accepted.”
Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan, in the press on April 9
 
United States
 
“Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country.”
— White House fact sheet, released April 2
 
JUDY WOODRUFF: The president has said these will be the most intrusive inspections, robust inspections ever. Others have said it’ll be anywhere, anytime. The Iranians are saying no, it won’t be on military bases and there are going to be limits. Which is it?
 
JOHN KERRY: We’re going to have a very robust inspection system. We have a means-of-dispute resolution that will permit us to be able to resolve questions if there are any unresolved issues of access. They have agreed to abide by what is called the additional protocol of the nonproliferation treaty. That protocol requires participating states to adhere to a higher standard and if they don’t, Judy, then the sanctions can, and will, come back. For a certain number of years that will happen automatically, but I can assure you that if Iran were then to suddenly move to try to advance this program beyond what would be normal for a peaceful nuclear power, the whole world will respond just as we have now and sanctions would be re-imposed.

— Secretary of State John Kerry, in a PBS interview on April 8

“We have agreed that Iran will face regular and comprehensive inspections, which is the best possible way to detect any attempt to covertly produce a weapon.  Not only will inspectors have regular access to all of Iran’s declared facilities indefinitely, but they will also be able to monitor the facilities that produce the centrifuges themselves and the uranium that supports the nuclear program.  And they will be able to do that for at least 20 years.”
— Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement on April 2
 
“International inspectors will have unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but to the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program -- from uranium mills that provide the raw materials, to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.  If Iran cheats, the world will know it.  If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it.  Iran’s past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed.  With this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world.”
— President Barack Obama, in a statement on April 2
 

 

Congress Acts: Corker Bill on Iran

On April 14, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a bill that would require Congress to review and then vote on a final nuclear deal with Iran. If the full Senate and House of Representatives approve the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” President Barack Obama would not be permitted to waive economic sanctions on Iran as part of a deal for at least 30 days during the initial review period.

“Despite opposition from the White House all along, I am proud of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s unanimous support of this bill that will ensure the American people – through their elected representatives – will have a voice on any final deal with Iran, if one is reached,” said Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-TN). For months, Corker has called for Congressional weigh-in, arguing that sanctions passed by lawmakers brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. He coauthored the legilsation with Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Kaine (D-VA).
 
The White House initially threatened to veto the bill, arguing that curbing the president’s powers could negatively impact negotiations. But President Obama backed off after the review period was shortened and the committee dropped the requirement for the president to certify that Iran has not been supporting or carrying out terrorist attacks against the United States or its citizens. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) played a key role in brokering the compromise between the Obama administration, Democrats and Republicans. The 19-0 vote suggested that the Senate likely has a veto-proof majority.
 
President Obama has stressed that he reserves the right to veto the bill if it is amended before passing the House and Senate. On April 28, the Senate rejected an amendment, introduced by Republican Senator Ron Johnson, that would have considered any nuclear deal a treaty requiring ratification by two thirds of the Senate.
 
The following is a summary of the bill released by Senator Corker’s office.
 
Congressional Review: Within five days of concluding a comprehensive agreement with Iran, the president must submit to Congress (1) the text of the agreement and all related materials, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities.
 
No Suspension of Congressional Sanctions During Review Period: The president is prohibited from suspending, waiving or otherwise reducing congressional sanctions for up to 52 days after submitting the agreement to Congress. Following an initial review period of 30 days, the legislation includes an additional 12 if Congress passes a bill and sends it to the president. If the president vetoes the legislation, Congress would have an additional 10 days to override a veto. If the deal is submitted after July 9, the review period increases to 82 days (60 days plus 12 days for the president to veto and 10 more days for Congress to override a veto). During this period, Congress may hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. Passage of a joint resolution of disapproval (over a presidential veto) within the review period would block the president from implementing congressional sanctions relief under the agreement.
 
Congressional Oversight and Iranian Compliance: After the congressional review period, the president would be required to provide an assessment to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance with the agreement. In the event the president cannot certify compliance, or if the president determines there has been a material breach of the agreement, Congress could vote, on an expedited basis, to restore sanctions that had been waived or suspended under the agreement. It also requires the president to make a series of detailed reports to Congress on a range of issues, including Iran’s nuclear program, its ballistic missiles work, and its support for terrorism globally, particularly against Americans and our allies. With this information, Congress will be able to determine the appropriate response in the event of Iran sponsoring an act of terrorism against Americans.
 
The legislation was coauthored by Senators Corker, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.). Cosponsors of the bill include Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bill Nelson (D- Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Angus King (I-Maine), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Dean Heller (R-NV), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).
 
Click here for the full text of the bill.  
 

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