A landmark nuclear accord between Iran and the international community that was the product of years of diplomacy and marathon negotiations has additional hurdles to clear in Washington: tough votes in both houses of the Republican-led Congress.
The pact announced in Vienna does not constitute a formal treaty with Iran, so a two-thirds Senate ratification vote is not needed. But Congress passed, and President Barack Obama signed, a measure giving lawmakers 60 days to approve or reject an accord with simple-majority votes.
Some lawmakers positioned themselves in opposition to the deal even before its terms were finalized.
“Iran is an anti-American, terrorism-sponsoring outlaw regime,” said Republican Senator Tom Cotton on ABC’s This Week program. “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 arguably has been Congress’ most-strident critic of diplomacy with Tehran, but he is not alone.
“If the United States is not firm in our intention to deny them such weapons, Iran will trigger a nuclear arms race in the least-stable region on earth, making it more likely the people who aspire to genocide will have the most-effective means to commit it,” said Senator Lindsey Graham last month at the launch of his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
“The best option is a strong agreement,” said Democratic Senator Ben Cardin on This Week, where he promised rigorous scrutiny of a deal. “We will be able to see whether we will have open inspections, whether the sanctions relief is commensurate with the progress Iran has made to give up its nuclear weapons program.”
Congressional review of any nuclear accord is warranted, according to analyst David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security during recent testimony on Capitol Hill.
“Because of the significant impact on U.S. national security, this agreement warrants special and extraordinary congressional scrutiny,” said Albright. “And the scrutiny should not only lead to an up-or-down vote, it should also result in legislation that enshrines and elaborates on its provisions.”