Obama warned not to take Iran deal to UN instead of Congress

Senator Bob Corker says submitting agreement to Security Council and not Congress would be ‘affront to American people’

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Senator Bob Corker (left), speaks while flanked by ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, March 11, 2015 (photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)
Senator Bob Corker (left), speaks while flanked by ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, March 11, 2015 (photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — US Senator Bob Corker warned President Barack Obama Thursday against a reported plan to take a nuclear deal for approval to the United Nations Security Council but not Congress.

Corker, the original proponent of a bill to force Congressional review of any nuclear deal with Iran, said such a move would be an insult to the American people

“Enabling the United Nations to consider an agreement or portions of it, while simultaneously threatening to veto legislation that would enable Congress to do the same, is a direct affront to the American people and seeks to undermine Congress’s appropriate role,” Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Obama.

Corker asked the president to “please advise us as to whether you are considering going to the United Nations Security Council without coming to Congress first.”

The note comes amid an increasingly public and hard-fought tussle between Obama and Republican lawmakers over what say Congress will have over any possible deal with Iran aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear weapons program.

Corker was one of just a few Republican senators to decline signing onto a letter to Iran’s leadership earlier this week warning that any agreement could be nullified once Obama leaves office, a missive that has been widely criticized in Washington and Tehran.

Yet he has still been a staunch proponent of Congress exercising its power as a check on the White House.

In February, Corker introduced, together with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which would require any final agreement with Iran to be submitted to Congress for review before congressionally-mandated sanctions can be waived or suspended.

Obama promised to veto such a bill, and so Corker and Menendez have worked in recent weeks to raise a 67-vote veto-breaking majority for the legislation.

The bill was one of three prongs of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) lobbying day last week on Capitol Hill in which AIPAC activists held some 500 lobbying appointments to discuss Congressional action on Iran.

On Thursday, AIPAC sent out a request to members to continue the push for the Corker-Menendez bill, asking them to e-mail senators in support of the bill.

A similar push was underway from Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which said Wednesday that some 57,000 emails had been sent to legislators urging their support for the initiative.

Corker wrote in his letter Thursday that Congress should be enabled to “vote on any agreement that seeks to relieve the very statutory sanctions imposed by Congress that were instrumental in bringing Iran to the negotiating table.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry told Corker’s committee that any deal with Iran would not be a legally binding treaty, and would therefore not be subject to Congressional oversight.

“We have been clear from the beginning, we are not negotiating, a quote, legally binding plan, we are negotiating a plan that will have in it capacity for enforcement. The letter erroneously asserts this is a legally binding plan. It is not,” he said, responding to the letter to Tehran penned by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 47 Senate Republicans.

The letter, Kerry argued, was “incorrect when it says that Congress can actually modify terms of an agreement at any time.”

“That is flat wrong,” he added.

After the hearing Corker promised to “follow up a bit” on Kerry’s comments. Thursday’s letter may have been the first such attempt – but likely far from the last as the US approaches a March 31 deadline for a political framework for the Iran deal.

Proponents of the Corker-Menendez bill argue that Congress has traditionally approved any nuclear agreements with foreign powers, whereas proponents of the administration’s perspective argue that it is within the authority of the executive branch to manage the foreign relations and negotiations on behalf of the United States government.

Corker, however, complained in his Thursday letter that Kerry had made assurances in the past that a deal with Iran would “pass muster with Congress.”

Speaking on Fox News earlier Thursday, Corker said that the intense response by Capitol Hill to the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 member states is because “the White House is stiff-arming [Congress]…People on both sides of the aisle believe that is wrong.”

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday that the US was seeking a “nonbinding international agreement.”

“This would be the same kind of arrangement as many of our previous international security initiatives, which I think everybody feels were worthwhile in making – so such as the framework negotiated with Russia to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and non-security initiatives such as the recent US-China joint announcement on climate change,” Psaki listed.

Psaki refused to directly deny allegations that such an agreement was designed to evade Congressional review, answering instead that “the overriding reason to prefer a nonbinding international arrangement to a treaty is the need to preserve the greatest possible flexibility to re-impose sanctions if we believe Iran is not meeting its commitments under a joint comprehensive plan of action.”

In response to claims that Congress was not being allowed sufficient oversight on the Iran deal, Psaki said that “we’ve done more briefings on this issue than perhaps any other issue in recent memory,” and added that “if we’re at the point where there’s an agreement and there are sanctions that are rolled back, then that’s a role that they would play.”

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