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US Senate Approves Congressional Review of Iran Nuclear Deal

Senate Majority Lleader Mitch McConnell, May 6, 2015.

The U.S. Senate has approved legislation giving Congress the right to review, and possibly reject, any eventual international agreement aimed at restraining Iran's nuclear development program.

The Senate voted 98 to 1 for the measure, which now heads to the House of Representatives, where it could be considered next week.

President Barack Obama at first opposed congressional review of the pact the United States and five other world powers are negotiating with Tehran to limit its ability to develop a nuclear weapon. But he has said he will sign the current bill if Congress gives its final approval.

The legislation would give Congress 30 days to review the pact, and if it decides to, reject it.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, who co-authored the bill, praised passage of the legislation.

“Without this bill, there is no limitation on the president’s use of waivers to suspend the sanctions Congress has put in place," he said. "There is no requirement that Congress receive full details of any agreement with Iran; there is no review period for Congress to examine and weigh in on an agreement ... no expedited procedures for Congress to rapidly re-impose sanctions, should Iran cheat.”

“Our goal is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state, pure and simple," said the bill’s co-author, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, adding that congressional involvement will strengthen America’s hand if and when a nuclear accord is reached.

The lone senator to vote against the bill was a newcomer to the body who has made a name for himself as a lead anti-negotiations agitator. Two months ago, first-term Republican Tom Cotton wrote an open letter to Iran warning that Congress could undo any nuclear agreement. Days ago, he engaged in a testy Twitter exchange with Iran’s foreign minister.

Cotton was one of several Republicans pushing contentious amendments demanding Tehran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist, among other provisions.

The Senate blocked or voted down so-called “poison pill” amendments that would have triggered a presidential veto, angering Cotton and other Republicans such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

“Our first priority should be stopping a bad Iran deal that jeopardizes the lives of millions of Americans and millions of our allies," said Cruz.

Iran is in the final stages of negotiating an agreement with Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and the U.S. that would curtail its nuclear program. In exchange, economic sanctions that the United Nations, the U.S. and European countries have imposed on Tehran would be eased, but during the congressional review period, Obama would not be able to lift the U.S. sanctions.

Tehran reached a framework agreement with the six world powers last month and negotiators have set a June 30 goal for reaching a final deal.