US Senate wants to restrict Obama on making any Iran deal
HERSHEY, Pennsylvania (AP) — In its first foreign policy challenge to President Barack Obama, the Senate is likely to vote soon on legislation restricting the administration’s ability to strike a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, officials attending a retreat of Republican lawmakers said Thursday.
Sen. Bob Corker, the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he and other lawmakers are drafting a measure to give Congress a right to “vote up or down” on any agreement, a prerogative it currently does not have.
The new Congress is now controlled in both chambers by Republicans.
Other lawmakers in both parties are drafting a measure relating to tougher penalties against Iran if it does not give up uranium enrichment as part of any deal. Separately, the Senate Banking Committee has announced a hearing for next week on the “strategic necessity” of sanctions.
Corker made his comments as Republicans held their first joint winter retreat in a decade.
Officials said one of the principal objectives was to make sure impatient conservatives in the House of Representatives understand a bitter truth — that while they can pass legislation with a simple majority, 60 votes are often required in the 100-member Senate. Republicans hold only 54 seats, meaning they will need Democratic help on contentious measures.
Corker said Majority Leader Sen Mitch McConnell wants to pass legislation on Iran relatively quickly and said the Senate may debate the issue as soon as late January or early February.
Corker told reporters that current law gives Congress a say in any proposed international sale of nuclear equipment, and that some lawmakers in both parties believe that should be extended to any deal with Iran. He said senators will soon be introducing legislation to that effect.
There has been widespread support in both parties for an effort to toughen existing economic pressure on Iran in hopes its negotiators will make more concessions in talks aimed at assuring the country does not obtain nuclear weapons.
The United States and its allies hope for an agreement by summer that would ease current international sanctions currently in place in exchange for stricter limits on Iran’s nuclear activity.
The administration takes a dim view of additional sanctions.
U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said earlier this week that imposing new sanctions now “will almost certainly end a negotiations process that has not only frozen the advance of Iran’s nuclear program, but that could lead us to an understanding that would give us confidence in its exclusively peaceful nature.”
Associated Press writers David Espo and Erica Werner contributed.