Congress Responds to the Framework Agreement on Iranian Nuclear Program

Iranian Nuclear Program Negotiations in Switzerland

Yesterday, international negotiators announced the parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); that is, the framework for an agreement on the future of Iran’s nuclear program.

The agreement that was reached in Lausanne, Switzerland yesterday is the basis for a good deal: Iran will be subject to permanent inspections and transparency measures in adherence with the Additional Protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Iran will also have to dismantle roughly two-thirds of its current centrifuges (and will only be allowed to operate its oldest variant), will only be allowed to enrich Uranium up to 3.67% for at least the next decade, and will not produce any weapons grade plutonium. In return, Iran will get significant sanctions relief if and when the IAEA declares that Iran has fulfilled its commitments.

Media coverage of the framework deal has been overwhelmingly positive, with pundits as far right as Bill O’Reilly suggesting to “take a deep breath, step back, and say, okay, let’s hope it’s a decent thing.”

Following the White House’s release of a four-page factsheet on the JCPOA, many in Congress were quick to offer their praise and skepticism over the framework agreement.

Representative Keith Ellison (D- Minn.), Barbara Lee (D- Calif.) and five other members of the House released a joint press statement applauding the P5+1 negotiating team and President Obama for reaching a framework agreement. In the press release, the seven democratic Congressional leaders highlighted the fact that this critical step towards an agreement is a giant leap away from war with Iran, and a win for diplomacy.

“This is a major step forward for diplomacy, national security and global peace,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). “The framework agreement will not only promote long-term security in the Middle East but also help remove the short-term specter of a destructive military confrontation,” added Rep. Conyers (D-Mich.).

Several members of Congress responded to the JCPOA in the context of legislation currently being floated in the Senate. In late January, Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) co-authored the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015,” which would impose additional sanctions on Iran. While it is widely understood that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, additional sanctions imposed while the negotiations are ongoing could be counterproductive.

In this case, a victory for diplomacy is also a win (or at least hiatus) in the battle against potentially harmful legislation. Senator Kirk told Bloomberg, “I think we’ll give them till the end of June” before a vote on the Menendez-Kirk additional sanctions.

But the Menendez-Kirk legislation is not the only bill obstructing the administration’s path to a diplomatic deal with Iran. A bill penned by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R- Tenn.), that would give Congress final up or down approval on a final deal, is set for mark-up on April 14th. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) offered his support for the Corker bill in his press release, stating bluntly that he “will be either introducing or supporting legislation that will require Senate ratification” of a deal. It’s important to note, however, that the outcome of the deal will not be a treaty, so ‘ratification’ is not necessary. Nevertheless, several members of Congress, particularly democrats such as Senator Boxor (D-Calif.), Representative Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), who believes “that Congress now should give our negotiations time and space to work out the details of a strong, verifiable comprehensive agreement.”

Bottom line: yesterday was a great day for the administration, for diplomacy, and for the future of, as President Obama put it in his Rose Garden statement, a “final, comprehensive deal, [that] will make our country, our allies, and our world safer.”

To read our press release on the framework agreement, click here.