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April 23, 2015

Congress Changes Rules on Iran: Opposing View

Congress should play an appropriate oversight role over a nuclear deal with Iran. Unfortunately, the proposed Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act is not oversight but instead an extraordinary effort to undermine the president’s ability to conduct diplomacy and change the rules of the game on our negotiators in the middle of high-stakes negotiations.

By inserting itself directly into the negotiations, Congress risks weakening the United States’ negotiating hand and triggering blowback from Iran that could derail the best chance to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute.

At its core, this bill threatens to revoke the president’s authority to waive sanctions on Iran. Congress had included these waivers in every Iran sanctions legislation it passed so as not to tie the president’s hands and to enable sanctions to be traded in for a deal. U.S. diplomats entered the Iran talks assuming these waivers were part of their toolkit, and structured their negotiating strategy accordingly.

Now, with the president on the cusp of a deal, Congress wants to take back those waivers. The bipartisan compromise would revoke the waivers for a 30-day “congressional review” and provide for a vote to revoke the waivers permanently. The effect would be to kill a deal.

Even if this move does not derail the negotiations, it may complicate them significantly. By changing the rules and threatening to renege on U.S. commitments, Congress has put Iran in a stronger negotiating position. Iran could demand more concessions to cover the risk that Congress votes down a final deal, and could use congressional interference to divide the six nations negotiating with Iran. If no final deal is reached, Congress has given Iran a strong hand to shift the blame to the U.S. and begin unraveling sanctions.

In accepting a compromise from Capitol Hill, the White House has judged that it can better manage the blowback from the Iranians than from the U.S. Congress. The senators who support a diplomatic solution, but pushed hard for this bill, now own this process. A large share of the onus falls on them to ensure Congress does not kill a deal and start a war.

This piece originally appeared in USA Today.

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