US Negotiator on Iran Sanctions: We Can’t Tell the World, ‘You Should Wait’ for Congress

By Patrick Goodenough | July 17, 2015 | 4:09am EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman share a celebatratory toast of madeira wine on the flight back to Washington from the nuclear talks in Vienna, on July 14, 2015 (Photo: State Department/Public Domain)

( – Responding to criticism about the administration’s plans to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution enshrining the Iran nuclear agreement before Congress reviews the deal, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said Thursday it would have been difficult for the U.S. to tell the world that it “should wait for the United States Congress.”

“It would have been a little difficult when all of the members of the P5+1 [the other five are Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany] wanted to go to the United Nations to get an endorsement of this – since it is a product of the United Nations process – for us to say, ‘well excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress,’” she told reporters.

Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator in the talks that produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), said the draft of the Security Council resolution, which is expected to be voted on early next week, allows for an “interim period of 60-90 days that I think will accommodate the congressional review.”

She said a process had been worked out “that allows this time and space for the congressional review before it takes effect.”

“So it anticipates that there is a period of review, while at the same time allowing the international community to speak.”

Later in the briefing, Sherman affirmed in response to a question that the new Security Council resolution will deal only with U.N. sanctions, not those imposed separately by the U.S. Congress.

“Sure. Correct, correct,” she said. “The U.N. doesn’t tell any sovereign state what that sovereign state can do in terms of – under its own laws. So the U.S. sanctions are U.S. sanctions and the U.N. sanctions are U.N. sanctions.”

Under bipartisan legislation signed by President Obama in May, the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have 60 days to review the JCPOA – and then potentially vote to approve or reject it. That period begins once the administration submits the full text plus related material to Congress. That has not yet happened.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman hold a briefing in Kerry's holding room at the Palais Coburg hotel, Vienna on July 8, 2015. (Photo: State Department/Public Domain)

Notwithstanding Sherman’s comments differentiating between U.S. and U.N. sanctions in this regard, Heritage Foundation scholar Brett Schaefer said that Congress, in passing the legislation, clearly intended no sanctions relief to take place before its review was complete.

Schaefer noted in a commentary Thursday that the law states that the during the review period the president “may not waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of statutory sanctions with respect to Iran under any provision of law or refrain from applying any such sanctions.”

“U.N. Security Council sanctions are not U.S. statutory sanctions, but the clear intent of the legislation is to prevent any sanctions relief until Congress has reviewed the deal,” he said.

Although the JCPOA wording calls for a resolution to be submitted to the Security Council “promptly,” Schaefer said all the parties involved in the nuclear talks were “aware of the Obama administration’s commitment to give Congress time to review the deal.”

“It is reasonable to argue that promptly means immediately after the procedures outlined in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 are complete,” he said. “The parties have negotiated this deal for well over a year breaking numerous deadlines, what are a few more weeks at this point?”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), lead author of the legislation, joined ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) Thursday in urging Obama “to postpone the vote at the United Nations until after Congress considers this agreement.”

A similar appeal came a day earlier from House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

 “It is distressing that your administration would afford Russia and China the opportunity to vote on the final agreement before the American people’s representatives do,” they wrote in a letter to Obama.

“The full 60 day review period and parliamentary procedures prescribed by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act should be allowed to play out before action at the Security Council,” said Royce and McCaul.

The two lawmakers added that if Congress passes a resolution of disapproval, and is able to override Obama’s threatened veto, “it would be entirely inappropriate and divisive for your administration to vote to lift U.N.-backed sanctions.”

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