Kerry: Congress Has No Role in Approving Iran Nuclear Deal

Patrick Goodenough | February 25, 2015 | 4:19am EST
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Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, February 24, 2015. (Screenshot: C-SPAN)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday declined to “get into” what negotiators are proposing to the Iranians in the nuclear talks, and defended the president’s authority to execute foreign policy, saying he did not believe a negotiated agreement should go through a “formal approval process” by Congress.

“I don’t think there ought to be a formal approval process,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that the administration was consulting with Congress and that lawmakers would ultimately have to vote on lifting sanctions on Iran.

“You certainly have a right to have whatever hearings and whatever further examinations you want to have, if a deal is struck,” he said in response to questions by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). “I mean, that’s your prerogative at any point in time. And ours is to respond to you.”

Asked by Gardner whether he believed then that Congress should have “no other role or feedback” apart from hearings, Kerry said, “No, I believe this falls squarely within the executive power of the president of the United States in the execution of American foreign policy.”

“And he is executing thoroughly all his responsibilities of consultation, but in the end this is the president’s prerogative,” he continued. “You can always decide to oppose it one way or the other, as you might. Our hope is that we will consult, work together, not set up predetermined barriers that make it difficult to get to an agreement.”

Kerry played down wire service reports this week indicating that an agreement taking shape ahead of an end-of-March deadline would restrict nuclear activity for 10 years before lifting constraints on Iran’s uranium enrichment.

“I already said that that is not our view of it, but we haven’t reached an agreement yet,” he said. “I don’t want to get into what we are or aren’t – I’m just telling you that’s not where it’s at today.”

In closing remarks later, committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) cited legislation that would force the administration to submit any nuclear deal with Iran to Congress within three days of entering into the agreement.

In the event of any agreement with Iran, he said, “I do think it’s important that it is submitted, that we have the opportunity to approve it prior to the sanctions being lifted.”

The legislation, introduced by Corker – then the ranking member – last July, seeks to prevent the administration from implementing any deal between Iran and P5+1 – the U.S., France, China, Britain, Russia and Germany – without Congress’ approval. It has 11 co-sponsors, all Republicans.

Testifying on Capitol Hill less than a day after returning from the Iran negotiations in Geneva, Kerry also appeared before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, where he said that those criticizing a pending deal with Iran had no idea what the deal is – because it does not yet exist.

“Anybody running around right now, jumping in to say, ‘Well, we don’t like the deal, or this or that,’ doesn’t know what the deal is,” he said. “There is no deal yet. And I caution people to wait and see what these negotiations produce.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress next week to underline Israel’s concerns about any deal that will leave Iran with the ability to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The destruction of arch-enemy Israel has long been a declared goal of the regime in Tehran.

The invitation to Netanyahu came from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who was criticized for not consulting first with the White House.

Kerry did not take up an invitation Wednesday from Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) – a critic of Netanyahu’s decision to come – to comment on the prime minister’s planned speech.

“You all have to make up your own minds about the propriety of the way this unfolded, or what happened,” he said. “We’re going to proceed about our business, which is protecting the country and maintaining the integrity of these relationships, and that includes Israel.”

Kerry confirmed that he would not be in Washington when Netanyahu is due to visit, saying he would be in Europe for talks with his Russian counterpart, a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the Iran nuclear talks.

The administration’s decision for neither Kerry nor Vice-President Biden to meet with Netanyahu has been widely read as a snub.

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