March 11, 2015

Smart Senators Must Abandon Cotton and the Iran Hawks

John Kerry, Mohammad Javad ZarifYesterday, Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Angus King (I-ME) went to the Senate floor to decry the latest outrageous stunt pulled by Congressional hawks to try to torpedo nuclear talks with Iran.

The stunt in question was, of course, the shocking open letter signed by 47 Senate Republicans informing Iran that America’s President simply cannot be trusted. This embarrassing totem of diplomatic self-sabotage was signed by all but 7 GOP Senators and was dutifully tweeted to Iranian leaders and defended across cable news outlets by the gang’s fearless leader, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) — a man who has said killing nuclear negotiations “isn’t an unintended consequence of Congressional action, it is very much an intended consequence.”

Yet while Senators King and Kaine came to the Senate floor to lament that this had shaken their confidence in Congress’s ability to get serious and play a productive role in the Iran talks, their comments turned into more of a plea for help than an intervention backed by action.

Despite the increasingly brazen efforts of their colleagues, both of the Senators indicated they will remain sponsors of S.615, the ‘Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act’, a bill introduced that would give Congress even more power to delay, deplete, and ultimately defeat a nuclear deal with Iran.

Kaine and King need to revoke their support for this bill before it is too late. The last thing that Tom Cotton and his gang of 47 needs is to be rewarded with veto power over an Iran deal.

As two of the Senate’s more thoughtful leaders, it was a surprise when King and Kaine first signed onto the Iran Review Act. Both are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, both caucus with the Democrats, and both have supported diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. Their endorsement helped enable a bipartisan S.615 to move forward in spite of a Presidential veto threat and protests from legal experts, pro-diplomacy political circles and organizations supporting the nuclear talks.

Kaine and King took a leap of faith to support the bill, but the political hijinks of the past week have made clear: there is a powerful contingent within Congress who are committed to killing any deal with Iran. They will not seriously evaluate a deal on its merits; they will leave no political trick unturned or longstanding protocol unviolated; and they are 100% committed to sabotaging the President’s diplomatic efforts. They will not use the tools provided by this bill to promote a stimulating debate on an Iran deal, they will use them as yet another political bludgeon to wield without regard for basic protocol, diplomatic norms or — oh yeah — what is in the country’s national interest.

In the time since the Iran Review Act was introduced, Congressional hawks have:

  1. Violated protocol to provide Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a Congressional platform to condemn American-led negotiations.
  2. Attempted to bypass regular order to force the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act through the Senate, a move aimed at short-circuiting debate and embarrassing Democrats.
  3. Sent the shocking open letter to undercut U.S. negotiating leverage in favor of Iranian hardliners.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. But if you get fooled three times, you are in an abusive relationship. It’s time for Kaine and King to get out before it’s too late.

Congress currently has significant oversight mechanisms to evaluate an Iran nuclear deal. But the Iran Review Act contains new tools — such as delaying implementation of a deal, enabling a vote to block a deal, and requiring Presidential certifications outside the scope of a nuclear deal — that go well beyond appropriate or productive oversight and can be deployed to kill any deal.

No serious Senator can in good conscience vote to entrust Congress with these additional powers at this time and further enable the chamber play political football with what could be one of the most important foreign policy achievements in decades.

The consequences of sabotaging a nuclear deal would be catastrophic. It would isolate America from its closest allies and other world powers. It would free Iran from nuclear constraints and unravel the sanctions without any Iranian concessions. And, worst of all, it would lock the US onto a path towards a disastrous war.

Those seeking to destroy negotiations have dangled the allure of bipartisanship but since shattered that pact. At this moment, in the 11th hour of negotiations, Tim Kaine and Angus King should not be party to another attempt at diplomatic sabotage. It is time for Kaine and King to remove their names from this bill.

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

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