President Barack Obama is doing everything in his power to bypass Congress and suspend most of the sanctions placed on Iran over its nuclear program, The New York Times reports
The president's efforts to undercut Congress in the negotiations have riled many members, including New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"If a potential deal does not substantially and effectively dismantle Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program, I expect Congress will respond," said Menendez, who has sponsored legislation to "tighten" sanctions if no deal is struck by Nov. 24. "An agreement cannot allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear state."
Republican Sen. Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, a vocal critic of the negotiations, said Congress could not allow the president to "unilaterally unravel Iran sanctions that passed the Senate in a 99 to 0 vote," referring to the 2010 vote that imposed the stringent sanctions against Iran, according to The Times.
In January, Menendez wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post
in which he said that since a deal was reached in Geneva in November between six major powers — the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, and Germany — Iran had acted in bad faith by continuing to pursue plans to build new centrifuges and a heavy-water nuclear reactor site, among other things.
Menendez recommended a "diplomatic insurance policy"
with Tehran in the form of additional prospective sanctions.
The Treasury Department, according to the Times, "has concluded Mr. Obama has the authority to suspend the vast majority of those sanctions without seeking a vote by Congress."
But the president cannot permanently end the sanctions, a step that would require congressional approval, though one senior official told the Times that there are no plans to "seek congressional legislation in any comprehensive agreement for years."
The White House's position is that top negotiators have said the best way to ensure Iran's cooperation is through a "step-by-step suspension of sanctions — with the implicit understanding that the president could turn them back on as fast as he turned them off."
"We have been clear that initially there would be suspension of any of the U.S. and international sanctions regime, and that the lifting of sanctions will only come when the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) verifies that Iran has met serious and substantive benchmarks," said Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
"We must be confident that Iran's compliance is real and sustainable over a period of time."
While many experts believe the best option is to continue negotiations even if a deal is not reached by the November deadline, there are also other considerations, such as Iran secretly buying nuclear technology from North Korea, something it has done in the past, or building it in covert tunnels.
"We have not seen much lately," a senior intelligence official told the Times. "But over the past 10 years, we've uncovered three covert programs in Iran, and there's no reason to think there's not a fourth out there."
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