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Republicans on Iran Bill: Congress Can Stop Tehran From Getting Nukes

By    |   Thursday, 07 May 2015 07:43 PM

Senate Republicans said they backed legislation Thursday to give Congress a say in any final nuclear deal with Iran to give the American people a voice in the process — but Sen. Tom Cotton said that lawmakers needed to stop "a dangerous deal that would put Iran on the path to obtaining a nuclear weapon."

"A nuclear-arms agreement with any adversary — especially the terror-sponsoring, Islamist Iranian regime — should be submitted as a treaty and obtain a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate as required by the Constitution," the Arkansas freshman said after the 98-1 vote. "President Obama wants to reverse this rule, requiring opponents to get a two-thirds vote to stop his dangerous deal.

"But Congress should not accept this usurpation, nor allow the president any grounds to claim that Congress blessed his nuclear deal," Cotton added.

With the vote, the Senate muscled its way into the Obama administration's negotiations with Tehran and five other nations that would require Iran to roll back nuclear efforts in exchange for relief from six years of crippling economic sanctions.

The vote capped a tumultuous journey for the legislation that included a veto threat from President Barack Obama — even attacks by many Democrats and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — before it moved forward after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stopped Republicans on Wednesday from adding more than 60 amendments.

Cotton sought one that would have required Iran to stop supporting terrorism that threatened Americans before any sanctions were lifted. Months earlier, he had spearheaded a letter signed by 46 other Republicans warning Iran that any deal with Obama could expire once he leaves office in January 2017.

Other senators working to amend the bill included two announced 2016 presidential candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. Both ended up supporting the legislation, as did another declared candidate, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

The measure "offers the best chance for our constituents through the Congress they elect to weigh in on the White House negotiations with Iran," McConnell said.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who pieced together the bill with Democrats, said the vote "sends a strong signal about the determination of Congress to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"This bill will allow Congress, on behalf of the American people, to determine if any final deal is verifiable and enforceable before the president can provide Iran any relief from congressional sanctions," he said.

Under the legislation, Obama could not waive congressional sanctions for 30 days while Congress examines any final deal. The bill stipulates that if senators disapprove of the deal, Obama would lose his power to remove certain economic penalties lawmakers have imposed on Iran.

The bill would require Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval to reject the deal, which Obama almost would certainly veto. Congress then would have to muster votes from two-thirds of each chamber to override the veto.

The House is expected to vote next week on the legislation.

"Our goal is to stop a bad agreement that could pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, set off a regional nuclear arms race, and strengthen and legitimize the government of Iran — which threatens Israel and other allies in the region, as well as supports terrorism throughout the Middle East," House Speaker John Boehner said.

He commended Corker "for his hard work" — adding that he looked "forward to House passage of this bill to hold President Obama’s administration accountable."

White House spokesman Eric Shultz said Obama would sign the bill in its current form. But the spokesman added that Obama had made it clear that if amendments were added by the House "that would endanger a deal coming together that prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that we'd oppose it."

However, Obama could use his executive pen to lift a large number of sanctions against Tehran if Congress opposed any deal. He could take unilateral actions that, when coupled with European and U.N. sanctions relief, would allow a deal to be implemented.

The U.S. and other nations negotiating with Tehran have long suspected that Iran's nuclear program is secretly aimed at atomic weapons capability. Tehran insists the program is entirely devoted to civilian purposes.

The talks resume next week in Vienna, with a final deadline target date of June 30.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has long slammed Obama's foreign policy, said Thursday that congressional review was critical because "Iran cannot be trusted.

"The American people and their elected representatives will be able to look at the content of the agreement, debate the consequences, and vote as to whether or not it’s a good deal for the United States," said Graham, who is considering a presidential bid. "I believe any deal should be verifiable and include conditions to ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.

"I cannot think of a worse scenario for our national security than a bad deal with Iran."

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe said "the United States cannot afford to play games with a country that sponsors terrorism and has publicly stated its intent to wipe out Israel and has called for 'death to America.'

"The U.S.-Iran deal has the potential to put the world on the brink of a dangerous nuclear arms race at a time where we face historic instability. It is in the best interest of this country, and its people, that an agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons is approved by Congress."

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, cautioned that "while this bill isn’t perfect, it will help move us toward our goal of ensuring that any deal with Iran is verifiable, enforceable, and accountable — and most importantly, prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."

Inhofe's Sooner State colleague, Sen. James Lankford, said that he supported the bill because diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from obtain nuclear weapons.

"We should solve this diplomatically," he told Wolf Blitzer on CNN. "The deal seems to have given away the process.

"You go back to a few years ago, the U.N. said no nuclear capability for Iran. We say 5,000 centrifuges. We are not dealing with missiles and delivery systems. We say they have the right to enrich.

"A lot of things have moved in the framework of the negotiation," Lankford said. "I'm concerned that we're headed to a deal that puts them on the pathway towards a bomb.

"That's what concerns me for the entire world."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Senate Republicans said they backed legislation Thursday to give Congress a say in any final nuclear deal with Iran — but Sen. Tom Cotton said that lawmakers needed to stop "a dangerous deal that would put Iran on the path to obtaining a nuclear weapon."
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Thursday, 07 May 2015 07:43 PM
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