WASHINGTON - Suspense surrounding extended international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program is keenly felt in Washington, where any deal would face tough votes in both houses of the Republican-led Congress.
Some lawmakers already are positioning themselves in opposition to whatever pact may emerge by Tuesday’s deadline, saying America is making a mistake.
“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 is arguably 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.
Any nuclear deal would not constitute a formal treaty with Iran, so a two-thirds Senate ratification vote would not be needed. But Congress passed, and President Barack Obama signed, a measure giving lawmakers 30 days to approve or reject an accord with simple-majority votes in both chambers.
“The best option is a strong agreement,” said Democratic Senator Ben Cardin on This Week. “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.”
Despite reports of progress in Vienna, the White House says an accord is far from certain.
“I have said from the start: I will walk away from the negotiations if, in fact, it is a bad deal,” said President Obama last week. “Ultimately, this is going to be up to the Iranians to determine whether or not they meet the requirements the international community has set forth to be able to fairly and accurately and consistently assess whether or not they have foreclosed the possibility of obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry echoed that assertion Sunday, in Vienna where he is taking part in the talks.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has spoken in cautiously optimistic tones, saying, “At this eleventh hour, despite some differences that remain, we have never been closer to a lasting outcome but there is no guarantee.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already passed judgment on diplomacy, saying it “is not a breakthrough, but a collapse” of the quest to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.