McConnell in Jerusalem: We Will Vote on Legislation to Review Any Iran Deal

By Patrick Goodenough | March 29, 2015 | 8:20 PM EDT

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell meets with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday, March 29, 2015. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office)

(CNSNews.com) – As Secretary of State John Kerry and his P5+1 counterparts sought to finalize the political outlines of a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday stood alongside the talks’ most vocal critic, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and reiterated that Congress must approve any deal.

If an agreement is reached at the talks in Switzerland, McConnell said in Jerusalem, lawmakers intend to vote on legislation “that enjoys bipartisan support to require that agreement come to Congress for approval.”

And if no deal is reached, he added, then he and others in the Senate believe “that ratcheting up sanctions might be the best direction to take.”

The White House has repeatedly stated that the agreement being negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 will not require Senate advice and consent. It has also threatened to veto legislation providing for congressional approval, if it is sent to the president’s desk.

The deadline for a framework nuclear agreement is Tuesday night. Kerry, who has been negotiating with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in the Swiss city of Lausanne since Thursday, was joined at the weekend by his counterparts from the P5+1, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.

Netanyahu, who in a controversial address before Congress early this month warned that a proposed nuclear deal would be dangerous for Israel, the region and the world, doubled down on the criticism on Sunday.

“This agreement, as it appears, confirms all of our concerns and even more so,” he said at a cabinet meeting.

In his meeting with McConnell, the prime minister pointed to fears across the Middle East that Iran is spreading its influence in Yemen and elsewhere in an attempt to dominate the region. He predicted that its behavior would be even more dangerous if it was no longer fettered by sanctions, and yet retained the ability to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

“As Israel and the Arab countries see Iran progressing with its aggression to conquer Yemen and the Bab el-Mandeb straits, talks continue as usual and go on, on a deal that from everything that we hear paves Iran’s way to the bomb,” he told the visitors.

“Will this increase or decrease Iran’s aggression?” Netanyahu asked. “Will this make their move forward more moderate or will it make it more extreme? I think it’s a no-brainer.”

“But this is happening before our eyes and I think the most important thing is to make sure that Iran doesn’t get a path to the bomb and that Iran’s aggression in Yemen and elsewhere, including around Israel’s borders, is stopped.”

(The Bab el-Mandeb straits, between Yemen and Djibouti, control access to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, as well as southern Israel and Jordan.)

McConnell said his delegation shared Israel’s concerns about the potential agreement.

He also praised Netanyahu for his speech to the joint session of Congress in early March, and said he wanted to assure all Israelis that bipartisan support for Israel in Congress was very strong, “no matter what’s been said recently.”

Issue is ‘far too important’ to skip Congressional review

The legislation McConnell referred to is the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which would require President Obama to submit any agreement to Congress within five days of its conclusion.

It would further prohibit the administration from suspending sanctions against Iran for a 60-day period, during which Congress could hold hearings and then approve, reject, or decide to take no action on the agreement.

The legislation would also require the president to certify every three months that Iran has not breached the agreement, has taken no action to “significantly advance” a nuclear weapons program, and has not “directly supported, financed, planned, or carried out an act of terrorism against the United States.”

Introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the bill has another 20 co-sponsors, including seven Democrats and an independent.

A newcomer to the co-sponsor list is Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has now been endorsed by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to succeed him as Senate Minority Leader when Reid retires at the end of next year.

“This issue is far too important – for the United States, for Israel, for the entire Middle East – for Congress not to have any ability to review a nuclear deal with Iran,” Schumer said when he joined the list of co-sponsors on Thursday.

The bill is scheduled for a vote in mid-April, after Congress returns from a two-week Easter recess.

McConnell’s reference to more sanctions if an Iran agreement is not reached alludes to another bill before the Senate, co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Menendez.

The White House has threatened to veto that piece of legislation too.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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