(CNSNews.com) – As U.S. and Iranian officials wrangled over key points in a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sounded cautiously confident Sunday that he could garner veto-proof majority support for legislation allowing Congress to review the deal before implementation.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) questioned the White House threat to veto the bill, should it be sent to President Obama’s desk.
“If the president feels like this is something that’s good for the nation, surely he can sell this to the United States Senate and the House,” he said.
Corker was referring to a framework understanding announced in Switzerland on Thursday, marking the outlines of a comprehensive agreement to resolve the lengthy international standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities.
The administration says it is a “good deal” that will shut off various potential pathways to a nuclear weapons capability, be rigidly monitored, and allow for sanctions to “snap back” into place if Iran violates its commitments.
Critics say is leaves an unacceptably large proportion of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact, effectively allowing Iran to become a nuclear threshold state once a 10-15 year period of restrictions lapses.
Negotiations to fill in the gaps and finalize technical details are due to proceed until a June 30 deadline for the final agreement, the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), to be concluded.
Corker warned that that process could include the drawing up of classified annexes on key issues.
“What the American people may not know right now,” he said, “is there will be all kinds of classified annexes that are very important. They lay out the details as to how much of this is going to take place. And that's why it’s so important that Congress play its rightful role in approving this” before sanctions are eased.
Senators on both sides of the aisle have voiced support for the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which would require congressional review, although at the behest of Democratic backers Corker held back on pushing for a vote before the Easter recess.
He confirmed Sunday the committee would vote on April 14, and said he was working to secure support from several Democrats needed to reach the required 67 votes.
If all 54 Republican senators were joined by those Democrats who have co-sponsored the legislation, he said, “we’ve got 64 or 65 that we’re aware of today.”
The bill would require the president to submit the Iran agreement to Congress within five days of its conclusion, and to hold off on suspending any sanctions for 60 days during which Congress could hold hearings pending a decision to approve, reject, or take no action on the deal.
In threatening to veto the legislation, the administration contends that it could cause the hard-won agreement to unravel: It says the U.S. will be blamed for the failure, unity among the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – will collapse, and the likelihood of war will increase.
Corker challenged those warnings.
“I’ve talked to the negotiators. No-one, no-one has said that Congress weighing in would have any effect on this deal,” he said. “As a matter of fact, what we know is just quite the contrary. We know that during the negotiations, the fact that Congress was likely to weigh in was something that the administration, the other Western countries, were able to use to ensure that this deal isn’t worse than it is.”
The administration’s battle to make a case for the JCPOA is not being helped by Iranian leaders’ statements focusing on the fact the agreement does not shut down a single nuclear facility (although it does impose significant restrictions on the work that can be undertaken at the various installations.)
The two governments are also placing different interpretations on how the issue of nuclear-related sanctions will be dealt with.
A State Department fact sheet on the “parameters” of the JCPOA states that U.S. and European Union sanctions “will be suspended” once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has taken all nuclear-related actions required of it.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf on Friday stressed that the process was to be a “phased” one, with suspension the obvious first step.
But Iranian President Hasan Rouhani said on Sunday that sanctions were to be “terminated,” arguing Iran would never have negotiated for their mere “suspension.”
“We have never negotiated the suspension of sanctions and if it were the case, there would be no agreement,” state media quoted him as telling senior officials in Tehran.
Earlier Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the State Department of trying to “spin” the framework agreement, also citing the question of sanctions suspension versus termination.
The issue of sanctions easing is central to the entire negotiation, and getting them lifted is Iran’s number one stated aim.
One of many gray areas in the JCPOA framework arises from those sanctions currently in place against Iran that do not relate solely to the nuclear program.
The State Department’s “parameters” document says clearly that “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.”
But some of the most robust sanctions imposed against Tehran cover both nuclear and other issues.
For instance, sanctions imposed under the 2010 Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) target the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and those that do business with the IRGC, for its involvement in the nuclear program, international terrorism, and human rights abuses.
Similarly, the 2012 Iran Threat Reduction Act, which targets entities that help Iran’s gas, oil, financial and shipping sectors, takes aim at Iranian institutions for supporting weapons of mass destruction programs, rights abuses or international terrorism.
Because of these complexities, lifting of “nuclear-related” sanctions will not be an easy task, according to American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick Kagan.
“The U.S. government will have to review a large number of sanctioned entities to determine which should remain sanctioned under terrorism or human-rights designations and which were only sanctioned because of their involvement in the nuclear program,” he said. “Congress should insist on an accounting of that review and its results.”