Senator says Biden administration committed to congressional review of Iran deal

US lawmakers Menendez and Graham express opposition to emerging accord, promise governmental oversight; ‘There will be bipartisan opposition,’ promises Graham

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

US Senators including Lindsey Graham and Bob Menendez (center) at a press conference in Jerusalem on September 5, 2022. (Jeremy Sharon)
US Senators including Lindsey Graham and Bob Menendez (center) at a press conference in Jerusalem on September 5, 2022. (Jeremy Sharon)

Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said on Monday that the Biden administration had committed to submitting any agreement on Iran’s nuclear program to Congress for review.

Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem, Menendez, a Democrat who opposed the original 2015 Iran deal known as the JCPOA, said such a review would be conducted by his committee and that a vote would be held in the Senate on any agreement.

He added, however, that he was “unsure” if the outcome of that vote would successfully block the agreement.

It is likely that any congressional review of an agreement reached by the Biden administration with Iran would require a two-thirds majority to be overturned, making it improbable that any deal, should one be signed, could be stopped by the Senate.

Menendez, the senior senator for New Jersey, is participating in a bipartisan Senate delegation to Israel, which is being led by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (Republican), and includes Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi (R), Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee (R), Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming (R), and Representative Ronny Jackson of Texas (R).

“The administration has made the commitment that if they enter into an agreement to follow on from what was the JCPOA, they will submit it to Congress and we will review it. That review starts in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which I chair,” said Menendez at the press conference.

The senator said he “fully intends” to have hearings on any such deal and hold a vote, but added that “whether that vote meets the threshold under the law to nullify that agreement is another question.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez (D-NJ), speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 23, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Menendez expressed heavy skepticism that any new deal would be an improvement on the original JCPOA.

The senator added that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigation of Iranian nuclear sites suspected of nuclear activity that were undeclared prior to 2015 should not be halted for the sake of reaching an agreement with Iran.

Tehran has demanded the investigation be shut down before signing a new nuclear deal with the US.

Graham also spoke at the press conference and stated there would be bipartisan opposition to any agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

He pledged, however, to be constructive in his criticism of the deal, and noted that he and Menendez had made alternative suggestions to reviving the JCPOA, namely to allow Iran and Sunni Arab nations to develop nuclear power, but with all uranium enrichment conducted outside of the region “to prevent nuclear [weapons] proliferation.”

Asked about a recent report in the Hebrew press that Mossad director David Barnea had been prevented from giving testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Graham replied that Barnea had addressed his delegation.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to reporters on the roof of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, June 1, 2021. (Lazar Berman/Time of Israel)

Sources familiar with the matter said that the Senate intelligence committee was not scheduled to convene this week during Barnea’s visit and that he would hold individual meetings with US officials instead.

Graham said one of the major goals of the delegation, other than gathering information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, was to emphasize that US support for Israel would remain unchanged regardless of the outcome of the midterm congressional elections in November.

“No matter the outcome of the election in the US, there will be no major change in support for Israel, regardless of who is in charge of the House and Senate,” said Graham.

The senator said the visit was intended to “reassure the Israeli government — left, right, and middle — that the US-Israel relationship is foundational to both countries [and that] no matter what happens in November, the assistance that Israel enjoys from the American government will continue.”

Graham also addressed what he said was a deteriorating situation in the West Bank, where he said problems were getting “worse, not better,” and expressed concern for a possible takeover of the territory by “radical elements.”

In light of this, the senator said efforts were needed to bolster Israeli security, but also ensure that the Palestinians are “moving forwards not backwards,” adding that this would take “a lot of effort.”

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