Top Democrat backs bill okaying Congress to sink Iran deal

Defying White House, Senator Chuck Schumer endorses legislation intended to enable lawmakers to kill nuclear accord with Tehran

US Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in New York City, March 31, 2015 (Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP)
US Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in New York City, March 31, 2015 (Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP)

Senior Democratic senator Chuck Schumer indicated Monday he would back legislation allowing Congress to vet and approve a deal with Iran over its nuclear program — a bill strongly opposed by the White House.

Schumer endorsed a bill sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker (Rep.) and Bob Menendez (NJ) which would give Capitol Hill the authority to reject a White House-brokered accord with Tehran, signalling a potential standoff between President Barack Obama and senior lawmakers in his own Democratic Party over the deal.

“This is a very serious issue that deserves careful consideration, and I expect to have a classified briefing in the near future. I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement and I support the Corker bill which would allow that to occur,” Schumer told Politico Monday.

The move will enable other Democrat senators to support the bill and still save face despite vehement opposition from the White House, analysts say, meaning the legislation will garner Congress’s support from both sides of the partisan divide.

Schumer is slated to replace Harry Reid (Nev.) as Senate Democratic leader at the end of next year.

A number of other Democratic senators signaled they too will endorse the legislation, including Tim Kaine (Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Bob Menendez (NJ) — the latter who was indicted last week on corruption charges.

The Corker-Menendez bill would oblige Obama to give lawmakers 60 days to examine, and possibly block, a nuclear deal.

Israeli officials reportedly said Jerusalem would push Congress to ratify the statute, in a last-bid attempt to sink the nuclear pact, as well as pressuring the White House to seek “improvements” to the framework deal to make it palatable for Israel.

“There’s no contradiction between an attempt to thwart the agreement and an attempt to improve it,” a senior official told Haaretz Monday. The official insisted, however, that pushing the White House to tweak the agreement, while simultaneously opposing it in Congress, would not harm its chances.

“There’s a political struggle in Congress over Iran,” the official said. “Congress can make a decision that [the framework deal] is a treaty and not an agreement. Those issues are being debated, so why don’t we make the most of it?”

Speaking to CNN as part of a US media blitz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the framework agreement reached in Lausanne between Tehran and the world powers will not roll back Iran’s nuclear program.

The deal “keeps Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure in place, not a single centrifuge destroyed, not a single nuclear facility shut down, including the underground facilities that they built illicitly. Thousands of centrifuges will keep spinning, enriching uranium… that’s a very bad deal,” Netanyahu said.

“They’re getting a free path to the bomb,” he continued.

Republican US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell also slammed Monday the April 2 accord with Iran, confirming that lawmakers opposed to the pact planned a formal response to the agreement.

“The administration needs to explain to Congress and the American people why an interim agreement should result in reduced pressure on the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” McConnell said in a statement following last week’s marathon talks.

McConnell repeated his pledge to examine the legislation proposed by Corker and Menendez, which requires any deal on Iran’s nuclear ambitions to be reviewed by Congress.

Obama has vowed to veto the bill in its current form, as well as a separate bill that would impose additional sanctions on Iran.

Republicans, however, are united behind the strategy of seeking to thwart an agreement, and Schumer’s endorsement signals a tentative but growing opposition from a sizable number of Democrats as well.

The powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee is due to meet on April 14 to consider the bill, paving the way for its consideration by the full Senate before heading to the House of Representatives, also Republican-controlled.

Republicans have criticized the fact that the framework deal reached last week allows Iran to keep several thousand centrifuges, continue its research and development program, and maintain a controversial underground laboratory at Fordo.

“Under no terms should the administration suspend sanctions, nor should the United Nations remove sanctions, until the Iranians reveal all aspects of the possible military dimensions of its previous research,” McConnell added in his statement.

The Obama administration has mounted a political offensive aimed at giving him a free hand until June 30, the deadline for finalizing an Iran deal.

Obama last week warned Congress against moves to torpedo the Iran agreement.

“If Congress kills this deal, not based on expert analysis and without offering any reasonable alternative, then it’s the United States that will be blamed for failure of diplomacy,” Obama said Thursday.

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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