The conservative blog Hot Air boasted that the passage occurred with an unusual unanimous vote of 19 to zero, giving it the appearance of an act of bipartisan defiance of the president, who had formerly promised to veto the bill that was under consideration. In light of the new amendments, which shorten the congressional review period from 60 days to 30 and which remove a requirement that Iran divorce itself from all affiliations with anti-Western terrorist groups, President Obama has signaled willingness to renege on his veto promise and sign the bill into law, according to The Atlantic.
This change of tack is naturally being presented as a deliberate change on the president’s part, but there is little doubt that Obama is begrudging in this acceptance, which may have been motivated less by the changes in the bill and more by the possibility that those changes have dramatically increased the chances of the bill securing a veto-proof majority. Still, the administration and its supporters have been presenting the newly revised legislation as something that will not interfere with Obama’s conclusion of a deal with Iran.
At the same time, The Atlantic points out that the weakened bill “does nothing to diminish the Republican opposition to Obama’s framework agreement.” Thus, that opposition can be expected to be a source of further conflict, which is only delayed by the modest compromise over the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. When the actual process of review emerges, there will be much more for the opposing sides to discuss, based on whatever technical details develop in the seven-party talks that are set to wrap up by June 30.
A range of serious issues are still outstanding between Iran and Western powers, including persistent disputes over whether Iran sanctions will be lifted immediately or after a period of verification. This issue was ostensibly settled by the April 2 framework agreement, but Tehran and Washington subsequently released contradictory fact sheets with each side effectively claiming victory on this issue.
A final agreement that preserves Iran’s claim to immediate relief will face stiff opposition from both houses of Congress, and indeed the passage of the review act would make such immediate relief impossible, owing to the required review period. It remains to be seen whether this established delay can be sold to Iranian negotiators alongside other anticipated details regarding an inspections process, limits on research and development, and so on.
Perhaps more than ever, the Obama administration will have to be wary of giving away too much to Tehran, especially in light of lingering assertions that it has already done this several times over. The prospect of congressional review means that a hard-won agreement could be torpedoed pretty easily on the American side. But an agreement that falls short of Iran’s minimum demands could be torpedoed even more easily by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has ultimate authority over all Iranian affairs and thus the power to reject any agreement.
It is clear that many in the US expect Tehran to either fail to abide by an agreement or try to take advantage of overly conciliatory terms from Washington. This fear surely informs congressional and especially Republican desires to makes sure that they snap severe economic sanctions back into place at the first sign of trouble. But some political figures are not content with this and are instead making separate efforts to punish Iran for its terrorist sponsorship and regional activities, regardless of progress on the nuclear issue.
Raleigh’s WRAL news network reported on Tuesday that the North Carolina state government has joined Kansas and Mississippi in considering new legislation to divest state funds from business that have dealings with Iran. Republican State Senator Jerry Tillman was quoted as saying, “I wish every state would do this,” in reference to the bipartisan passage of a bill that some of his colleagues have described as being a message of support to the US’s traditional American allies and a signal that state taxpayer’s will not support Iranian behavior associated with officials’ ongoing repetitions of “death to America.”
Currently, about half of the 50 states in the union have divestment laws in effect, many of which are set to expire only in the still-unlikely scenario of Iran being freed from all federal sanctions including those targeting its support for terrorism and its domestic human rights abuses.