NBC reports that while some Republican legislators may have felt that early passage of the bill would have increased pressure on Tehran, Menendez has argued that pushing forward the vote only served political ends and would not have made a substantive difference in the negotiations, which are not set to conclude with a final agreement until the end of June.
While there is room for debate as to when is the best time for action on this issue, the issue itself is very much alive. Despite the president’s resistance to oversight in dealings with Iran, the vast majority of the US Congress, including many members of his own party, is committed to a harder line on the Islamic Republic, and thus wary of a deal that appears to offer significant sanctions relief in exchange for little guarantee that Iran will be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon for the foreseeable future.
An article published in Bloomberg on Thursday sides with Congress on the matter of oversight, arguing that “meddling” in the Iran negotiations is the constitutionally appropriate role for the legislative body to play. The author contradicts the Obama administration’s assertion that the talks are within the purview of the executive branch alone, and he quotes founding father Alexander Hamilton as saying that the United States “intercourse with the rest of the world” is too serious to be entrusted to the single individual who occupies the White House.
And of course, opponents of the Iranian regime feel that its nuclear program comprises the most serious foreign policy issue under consideration today. This concern was outlined once again by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his speech to the US Congress on Tuesday – a speech that some have credited with spurring McConnell to demonstrate action on the topic while Netanyahu was still in Washington.
But in line with its dismissal of the need for congressional oversight, the Obama administration has been similarly dismissive of Netanyahu’s warnings and assessments Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the effects of sanctions relief, and more. The Tower fact-checked some of these dismissals on Thursday and pointed out that Obama had also exaggerated Netanyahu’s claims, indicating that he had suggested Iran would receive 50 billion dollars in sanctions relief. In fact, the closest figure to this was a Times of Israel estimate that Iran’s economy would benefit to the tune of between 20 and 40 billion dollars over the course of the negotiating period. This estimate stands to be upheld as some US analysts expect that the total effects of interim relief will indeed exceed 20 billion dollars.
The Tower also points out that this sanctions relief will likely have the further effect of decreasing Western leverage as negotiations wrap up, thus making Iran more resistant to compromise. Obama’s unwillingness to exert further pressure has been justified by the administration according to another misrepresentation of the facts. The administration insists that Iran has been in full compliance with the terms of the interim agreement, but opponents say that the testing of more advanced uranium centrifuges constituted a clear violation.
Netanyahu’s narrative about Iranian intransigence and Obama’s excessive softness is further supported by Iranian public statements expressing unwillingness to compromise. For instance, the Indo-Asian News Service reported on Thursday that lead Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi had once again reiterated the Islamic Republic’s insistence on an agreement in which all sanctions against the country are removed immediately and en masse – a position heretofore rejected as unreasonable by Western powers.
Unless this and other Iranian positions soften considerably, the issue is sure to see more aggressive action by the US Congress in the coming months, even if the Obama administration capitulates to those positions in the short term.