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Congress Could Face Rush to Review Iran Nuclear Deal

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

If everything goes according to Secretary of State John Kerry’s timeline, Congress will face a rush to review and respond to a nuclear deal with Iran before leaving town again for August recess.  

Kerry said Sunday that while there are significant issues still to be resolved and it could go in either direction, the goal was to get a deal by Tuesday, which would be within the window that provides for 30 days of review and potential disapproval by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.  

“If there’s absolute intransigence, if there’s an unwillingness to move on the things that are important, President Obama has always said we’ll be prepared to walk away,” Kerry told reporters in Vienna. “It’s not what anybody wants. We want to get an agreement, but I’ve said from the moment I became involved in this we want a good agreement, only a good agreement.”  

Kerry’s remarks came shortly after Republican senators took to the airwaves Sunday morning back in the United States to discourage the Obama administration from signing off on a bad agreement.  

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., for instance, only sounded more skeptical after watching the latest message from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed optimism about an agreement.  

“This is not like Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks trying to reach a contract that makes everyone happy. Iran should have faced a simple choice: they dismantle their nuclear program entirely or they face economic devastation and military destruction of their nuclear facilities,” Cotton said on ABC’s “This Week.”  

Earlier this year, Cotton led what came to be a highly contentious open letter from 47 GOP senators to Iranian leadership about the role of Congress in the nuclear talks.  

“I see hope because I see [the] emergence of reason over illusion. I sense that my negotiating partners have recognized that coercion and pressure never lead to lasting solutions, but to more conflict and further hostility,” Zarif said on July 4.  

Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told CQ Roll Call before the July Fourth recess that he has been leading his committee through a series of hearings and closed briefings so that members are ready to go if an agreement is reached between the P5+1 negotiating countries and Iran.  

The Tennessee Republican wanted to have his committee up to speed ahead of time, knowing that under the terms of the review legislation he developed with Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., there would be just 30 days for review if an agreement is reached by Thursday.  

“Right now we have issues of are we going to have anytime, anywhere inspections, will we know what their past military dimensions were. It’s very important — every person who has come in to testify has talked about the importance of that. Will the IAEA ever be required to declare that Iran over time has a civil program and not a military program?” Corker said Sunday. “It’s been going on a negative trend for some time.”  

Speaking on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Corker emphasized that Congress was not behind the push to get an agreement reached this week. Corker also said he spoke with Kerry on July 4.  

“It’s amazing to me that as we come to the end of this deal, the biggest issue of concern to these countries right now is that Congress would only have 30 days, not 60 days, to review the deal,” Corker said.  

As for Zarif’s contention that “coercion and pressure” wouldn’t bring a desirable outcome, Cotton said the military option should remain on the table at this point.  

“It’s not the first choice. It’s never the preferred choice, but military force does have to remain an option if our diplomacy is going to be credible,” Cotton said. “We (have) unique capabilities and we can destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities and their command-and-control facilities, and all of our allies in the region wish we would take a more forceful position and keep that military option on the table because it would result in a better deal.”