Israel’s Iran point man pleased with US oversight bill

Minister Steinitz says compromise legislation ‘an achievement for Israeli policy,’ credits Netanyahu’s Congress speech

Yuval Steinitz. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yuval Steinitz. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel welcomed the bill unanimously passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee requiring Congressional oversight of any comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, Intelligence Minister Yuval Seintitz said Wednesday.

Steinitz called the new legislation “an achievement for Israeli policy,” and credited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s polarizing March address to US lawmakers detailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions for the development.

“We are certainly blessed this morning,” he told Israel Radio, adding that  increased oversight would prevent Iran from breaking the terms of the deal.

Tuesday’s last-minute compromise decision, reached between the Obama administration and the Foreign Relations Committee, will require Congress to to review any comprehensive nuclear deal reached with Iran.

“It means more pressure and another hurdle in the way of a bad agreement, so the administration and negotiators will work harder to fill the gaps to reshape the deal into a better, more reasonable one that can win Congress approval,” said Steinitz, who has become something of an unofficial point man of Netanyahu’s on the Iran issue, explaining Israel’s positions both to local media and to international decision makers.

In recent weeks, the White House campaigned hard against the original text of the legislation, which it said undermined the possibility of reaching any negotiated agreement with Iran.

The bill, authored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), will now head to the Senate floor, where it is likely to pass the final hurdle and be signed into law.

Corker and Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) worked throughout Tuesday to come up with a version of the bill that would make the legislation more palatable to Democrats.

One provision of the original bill, described by its opponents as a poison pill, was a clause stipulating that Iran cease state sponsorship of terror. That clause was removed from the final text of the bill as a provision for gaining the administration’s approval.

At the bill’s heart is text that will allow Congress a 52-day review period of any agreement that the US reaches with Iran over its nuclear program in the framework of ongoing talks between Tehran and the P5+1 member states. An earlier version of the bill sought to put any plan by Obama to lift sanctions on Iran on hold for up to 60 days while Congress reviewed the deal.

In advocating for his legislation, Corker repeatedly criticized the current situation, in which both the United Nations Security Council and the Iranian Majlis parliament would be able to vote on any agreement, but the United States Congress would not.

“The administration… has been fighting strongly against this,” said Corker.

“I know they’ve relented because of what they believe will be the outcome here,” he said. “I believe this is going to be an important role, especially the compliance pieces that come afterward.”

The White House initially promised to veto the legislation, but reversed course shortly before the committee vote, indicating that it would not put the kibosh on the bill.

It’s not clear that Obama would have been able to wield his veto pen in any case. Even before the White House’s reversal, Corker claimed that he had already garnered enough support to override any potential presidential veto.

Obama, whose foreign policy legacy would be burnished by a deal with Iran, has been in a standoff for months with lawmakers who say Congress should have a chance to weigh in and remain skeptical that Iran will honor any agreement.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House would withhold final judgment on the bill while it works its way through Congress, wary that potential changes could be made in committee that would render it unpalatable. But he said the White House could support the compromise in its current form.

“Despite the things about it that we don’t like, enough substantial changes have been made that the president would be willing to sign it,” Earnest said.

AP contributed to this report.

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