National Journal reports: Backed up against a rapidly approaching do-or-die deadline, bipartisan lawmakers are poised to introduce legislation next week that would roll back the National Security Agency’s expansive surveillance powers.
The legislation could land as soon as Tuesday in the House, congressional aides and privacy advocates said, who would only speak on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
The bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, would effectively end the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. phone metadata — the numbers, time stamps, and duration of a call but not its actual content — by instead relying on phone companies to retain that data. The program is the first and one of the most controversial spying programs exposed by the Edward Snowden leaks that began nearly two years ago.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Rep. John Conyers, the panel’s top Democrat, are expected to back the bill, as is Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the author of the original Freedom Act that first emerged in the fall of 2013, and Rep. Jerry Nadler. All four have been intensely involved in negotiations since the measure fell apart in Congress late last year.
But as the House barrels ahead, it remains unclear what strategy the bill’s advocates in the Senate, led chiefly by Sen. Patrick Leahy, intend to deploy. That question is complicated by the implications a fractious national security debate could have for the Republican caucus, whose three presidential aspirants — Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio — have adopted increasingly divergent positions on NSA surveillance. [Continue reading…]
Adm. Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, writes: Powerful factions in the leadership remain deeply suspicious of the West and even of this agreement, believing that the international community is only interested in regime change, and that only through geopolitical adventurism and the projection of power can the regime be sustained. Failure of the negotiating process will only reinforce their hand.
Iranian reformists, on the other hand, support a nuclear deal because it would be a first step in the evolution they would like to see. But its successful enactment would just be the opening salvo in a struggle between these two visions of Iran. Much will depend on President Rouhani’s ability to continue satisfying the electorate’s demand for change. The next showdown will come when a group of elders charged with selecting the next Supreme Leader get elected next winter. The third showdown comes with Parliamentary balloting in the spring of 2016, with the final showdown being the Presidential election in 2017.
Which of these two visions wins out will become clear over the next several years and will have tremendous repercussions for the future of the Middle East. It might also have tremendous repercussions for American foreign policy, pushing open a door which has remained closed for more than 35 years. Exposure to the Iranian people, and their exposure to us, may yield new opportunities to discourage Iranian support for terrorist groups and other abusive regimes where they exercise influence. It would also more fairly rebalance American influence. We need to re-examine all of the relationships we enjoy in the region, relationships primarily with Sunni-dominated nations. Detente with Iran might better balance our efforts across the sectarian divide. [Continue reading…]
Barbara Slavin writes: For months now, Russia has been a constructive member of the international consortium negotiating with Iran, often proposing creative fixes to technical hurdles.
But this week, just as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was taking up sensitive Iran-related legislation, Russia announced that it was going forward with an old contract to sell Iran an air defense missile system that could make it less vulnerable to foreign attack.
The deal to supply the S-300 is not illegal under UN sanctions, which prohibit selling offensive heavy weaponry to Iran. The message the Kremlin is sending is that Russia is not willing to wait for the conclusion of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program to lock in the benefits of resumed trade with the Islamic Republic.
It is unfortunate that the government of Vladimir Putin didn’t wait a few months longer. Critics of the Iran deal have been quick to pounce on the announcement as proof that the Barack Obama administration was somehow duped by Moscow and that the Iran framework so laboriously negotiated over the past 13 months is a “sucker’s deal.”
A more insightful way to read Russia’s act is to see it as a recognition of reality that the elaborate web of multilateral sanctions imposed on Iran over the past five years is unraveling and only an egregious Iranian effort to break out and build a nuclear weapon could arrest that momentum. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Tehran was negotiating a comprehensive nuclear deal with world powers, not the U.S. Congress, and called a Senate committee’s vote to give Congress the power to review any potential deal a domestic U.S. matter.
The Iranian leader, speaking in a televised speech in the northern Iranian city of Rasht, also repeated earlier statements that his country will not accept any comprehensive nuclear deal with world powers unless all sanctions imposed against it are lifted.
“We are in talks with the major powers and not with the Congress,” Rouhani said, Iranian state television reported. Rouhani said the U.S. Congress’ power to review a nuclear deal with Iran was a domestic U.S. matter, the Reuters news agency reported.
He said Iran wanted to end its isolation from the world by constructing “constructive interaction with the world and not confrontation.”
Rouhani’s comments came one day after a Senate committee voted unanimously to give Congress the power to review a potential Iran nuclear deal after a June 30 negotiating deadline, in a compromise with the White House that allows President Obama to avoid possible legislative disapproval of the pact before it can be completed. [Continue reading…]
Ariane Tabatabai writes: The scenes in Tehran in the hours following the announcement of the nuclear deal were a testament to how important Iranians felt it was to their lives. In different cities, people took to the streets on Thursday, honking horns, waving flags, cheering. It had been a long time coming. In the months leading up to the deadline, whenever I visited or called friends and family in Iran, the first questions I heard were typically, “What’s going on in the talks? Will we get a deal?” A day after the agreement was made public in Lausanne, when Friday prayers were held across Iran, prayer leaders welcomed a “success” for the Islamic Republic, and upon his arrival at the airport, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s return to the country was celebrated as if he’d led Iran to the next World Cup.
With the technical issues on the table in Lausanne now virtually all addressed, many eyes are turning toward Washington and Tehran to see what will happen next. As the parties draft a final deal ahead of the June 30 deadline, the key challenges won’t be in the international arena, but in the domestic politics of both capitals. There are, to be sure, a number of skeptics in Iran, some of them in positions of power: Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of the influential hardline newspaper Kayhan, for instance, said Iran had “given up a horse with a saddle for a broken harness.” Esmail Kowsari, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, claimed that the Iranian negotiating team “has only killed time” in the past year, and that “the nation and country’s time has been wasted.”
But despite these protests, it is Washington, not Tehran, where domestic politics are most likely to become a stumbling point. The three months between the announcement of the agreement and when the final deal will be made public are a crucial phase that could make or break its success. Interim deals have been brought home to skeptical audiences before. But this time — at least in Tehran — a combination of factors, from the savvy salesmanship of the negotiating team to the implicit backing of some of the country’s most important stakeholders seem primed to ensure, if not smooth sailing, then at least enough buy-in keep the accord viable. [Continue reading…]
Robert E. Hunter writes: Well, Obama did it. Or, rather, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, the other members of the P5+1 (the UN Security Council members, Germany, plus the EU) — and let us not neglect Iran — have done it. This is not a bad several months’ work. But now for the denizens of Washington and Washington-watchers everywhere, plus every possible party in the Middle East, the “fun” really begins.
For people who care about Obama’s core objective, to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, the framework agreement concluded in Lausanne has to be seen as a good deal, a very good deal indeed. Yes, hard negotiations still lie ahead, to meet the June 30 deadline to reduce the framework to some form of formal agreement — with the form itself likely to be debated thoroughly — in part to meet legitimate concerns in the US Congress over its constitutional role in critical foreign policy and security matters.
But despite the work that must be done in the next three months, those who care about Obama’s core objective can already exhale with a “whew” of historic proportions. That is also true for people who believe in the value of talking with enemies as well as friends. As put by the late Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, “You make peace with your enemies — not the Queen of Holland.” During the Cold War, arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union had benefits far beyond the technicalities of agreements reached. Because of the very fact of negotiations, it became possible to talk about broader issues and to move, however slowly, first to détente and then to the end of the Cold War. That can now become possible between the United States and Iran, far beyond the results in Lausanne on the so-called “nuclear file.” [Continue reading…]
Mark Perry writes: Early in the afternoon of Monday, February 23–the day following the anniversary of George Washington’s birth—North Dakota Republican John Hoeven rose from his seat, walked to the podium of the U.S. Senate, and began to read George Washington’s “Farewell Address.” In his seminal good-bye to the nation, the first president condemned the rise of political parties because they “distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration,” and warned against “a passionate attachment of one Nation for another,” which “produces a variety of evils.”
What’s striking about the latest recitation of the Farewell Address—a tradition followed in the Senate since 1896—is how little has changed since Washington wrote it (helped by Madison and Hamilton). The ills and controversies that so beset the father of the nation are still on full display in early 2015, dogging the 44th man in succession, Barack Obama. President Washington was lamenting the inordinate influence and arrogance of a French diplomat he had come to detest, known as “Citizen Genet,” who had rallied cheering American supporters into backing the French war against the British and had played havoc with U.S. foreign policy. President Obama is now lamenting the inordinate influence of one Citizen Netanyahu, who according to some Obama administration officials is up to pretty much the same mischief. And very gingerly, Obama appears to trying to pry America away from its “passionate attachment” to Israel. [Continue reading…]
Fifteen to 20 years ago, a canny friend of mine assured me that I would know I was in a different world when the Europeans said no to Washington. I’ve been waiting all this time and last week it seemed as if the moment had finally arrived. Germany, France, and Italy all agreed to become “founding members” of a new Chinese-created development bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Great Britain, in “a rare breach of the special relationship,” had already opted for membership the week before (and another key American ally deeply involved in the China trade, Australia, clearly will do so in the near future). As Andrew Higgins and David Sanger of the New York Times reported, the Obama administration views the new bank as a possible “rival to the World Bank and other institutions set up at the height of American power after World War II.”
“The announcement by Germany, Europe’s largest economy,” continued the Times, “came only six days after Secretary of State John Kerry asked his German counterpart, Frank Walter-Steinmeier, to resist the Chinese overtures until the Chinese agreed to a number of conditions about transparency and governing of the new entity. But Germany came to the same conclusion that Britain did: China is such a large export and investment market for it that it cannot afford to stay on the sidelines.”
All of this happened, in other words, despite strong opposition and powerful pressure from a Washington eager to contain China and regularly asserting its desire to “pivot” militarily to Asia to do so.
Whatever world we now inhabit, it’s not the twentieth century anymore. Though no other power has risen to directly challenge Washington, the United States no longer qualifies as the planet’s “sole superpower,” “last superpower,” “global sheriff,” or any of the similarly self-congratulatory phrases that were the coin of the realm in the years after the Soviet Union dissolved.
Only one small problem, highlighted today by Pentagon expert and TomDispatch regular William Hartung: the Department of Defense evidently doesn’t have a clue. As he makes clear, it’s still planning for a sole superpower world in a big way. And in the present atmosphere in Washington, it’s got real support for such planning. Take, for instance, Senator Tom Cotton — he of the “Senate 47″ — who just gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor calling for a policy of total U.S. “global military dominance” and bemoaning that “our military, suffering from years of neglect, has seen its relative strength decline to historic levels.”
It may be a new world in some places, but in others, as Hartung makes clear, it couldn’t be older. Tom Engelhardt
Military strategy? Who needs it?
The madness of funding the Pentagon to “cover the globe”
By William D. Hartung
President Obama and Senator John McCain, who have clashed on almost every conceivable issue, do agree on one thing: the Pentagon needs more money. Obama wants to raise the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2016 by $35 billion more than the caps that exist under current law allow. McCain wants to see Obama his $35 billion and raise him $17 billion more. Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees attempted to meet Obama’s demands by pressing to pour tens of billions of additional dollars into the uncapped supplemental war budget.
What will this new avalanche of cash be used for? A major ground war in Iraq? Bombing the Assad regime in Syria? A permanent troop presence in Afghanistan? More likely, the bulk of the funds will be wielded simply to take pressure off the Pentagon’s base budget so it can continue to pay for staggeringly expensive projects like the F-35 combat aircraft and a new generation of ballistic missile submarines. Whether the enthusiastic budgeteers in the end succeed in this particular maneuver to create a massive Pentagon slush fund, the effort represents a troubling development for anyone who thinks that Pentagon spending is already out of hand.
When Israel is described as one of America’s closest allies, maybe more emphasis should be placed on the term close than ally — as in too close, which would be to call Israel, America’s most intrusive, troublesome ally.
And this would explain why, as U.S. officials say: “The U.S. expends more counterintelligence resources fending off Israeli spy operations than any other close ally.”
What the following report speaks to is a conviction among Israeli leaders and their supporters — many of whom are American citizens — that Israel has a right to use any means available not merely to influence but rather to control and if needs be, to sabotage U.S. foreign policy.
The Wall Street Journal reports: Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.
The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.
The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.
“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.
The U.S. and Israel, longtime allies who routinely swap information on security threats, sometimes operate behind the scenes like spy-versus-spy rivals. The White House has largely tolerated Israeli snooping on U.S. policy makers—a posture Israel takes when the tables are turned.
The White House discovered the operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.
Israeli officials denied spying directly on U.S. negotiators and said they received their information through other means, including close surveillance of Iranian leaders receiving the latest U.S. and European offers. European officials, particularly the French, also have been more transparent with Israel about the closed-door discussions than the Americans, Israeli and U.S. officials said.
Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer early this year saw a rapidly closing window to increase pressure on Mr. Obama before a key deadline at the end of March, Israeli officials said.
Using levers of political influence unique to Israel, Messrs. Netanyahu and Dermer calculated that a lobbying campaign in Congress before an announcement was made would improve the chances of killing or reshaping any deal. [Continue reading…]
Andy Greenberg writes: When the Senate Intelligence Committee passed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act by a vote of 14 to 1, committee chairman Senator Richard Burr argued that it successfully balanced security and privacy. Fifteen new amendments to the bill, he said, were designed to protect internet users’ personal information while enabling new ways for companies and federal agencies to coordinate responses to cyberattacks. But critics within the security and privacy communities still have two fundamental problems with the legislation: First, they say, the proposed cybersecurity act won’t actually boost security. And second, the “information sharing” it describes sounds more than ever like a backchannel for surveillance. On Tuesday the bill’s authors released the full, updated text of the CISA legislation passed last week, and critics say the changes have done little to assuage their fears about wanton sharing of Americans’ private data. In fact, legal analysts say the changes actually widen the backdoor leading from private firms to intelligence agencies. “It’s a complete failure to strengthen the privacy protections of the bill,” says Robyn Greene, a policy lawyer for the Open Technology Institute, which joined a coalition of dozens of non-profits and cybersecurity experts criticizing the bill in an open letter earlier this month. “None of the [privacy-related] points we raised in our coalition letter to the committee was effectively addressed.” The central concern of that letter was how the same data sharing meant to bolster cybersecurity for companies and the government opens massive surveillance loopholes. The bill, as worded, lets a private company share with the Department of Homeland Security any information construed as a cybersecurity threat “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” That means CISA trumps privacy laws like the Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986 and the Privacy Act of 1974, which restrict eavesdropping and sharing of users’ communications. And once the DHS obtains the information, it would automatically be shared with the NSA, the Department of Defense (including Cyber Command), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. [Continue reading…]
Jason Leopold reports: Thirteen years ago, the intelligence community concluded in a 93-page classified document used to justify the invasion of Iraq that it lacked “specific information” on “many key aspects” of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.
But that’s not what top Bush administration officials said during their campaign to sell the war to the American public. Those officials, citing the same classified document, asserted with no uncertainty that Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear weapons, concealing a vast chemical and biological weapons arsenal, and posing an immediate and grave threat to US national security.
Congress eventually concluded that the Bush administration had “overstated” its dire warnings about the Iraqi threat, and that the administration’s claims about Iraq’s WMD program were “not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.” But that underlying intelligence reporting — contained in the so-called National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was used to justify the invasion — has remained shrouded in mystery until now. [Continue reading…]
Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi write: Part of the reason why opponents to a nuclear deal with Iran are so bewildered by President Barack Obama’s diplomacy is because their belief that Iran can be forced to capitulate. They adhere to a George W. Bush administration-era argument: If the U.S. only were to ramp up pressure, it can dictate the terms of the deal instead of having to agree to a compromise.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
This argument is as reckless as it is disproven. In fact, the reason the Obama administration abandoned this path was because it realized that insisting on Iranian capitulation was more likely to lead to war than to victory. And that is precisely why it is defying any pressure — be it from the US Senate or the Israeli Prime Minister — to return to this policy.
What the hawks miscalculate is Iran’s ability to resist — and hit back. When Washington imposed on Iran the most comprehensive sanctions regime in history, Tehran did not capitulate. Rather, it responded to pressure with pressure. It took steps to adapt its economy to bend but not break — from weaning its budget off oil revenues, to utilizing unofficial financial networks and processes. Prior to President Rouhani’s election, it increased efforts to target Western and Israeli interests around the world — from suspected bombings to cyber attacks.
But most telling has been Iran creating new nuclear facts on the ground. As sanctions, cyber-warfare, and secret assassinations increased, so too did Iran’s stockpiles of low and medium enriched uranium, as well as its installation of first and second-generation centrifuges. [Continue reading…]
Fighting ISIS: Impasse with Congress stalls the authorization the Obama administration says it doesn’t need
The New York Times reports: President Obama’s formal request for congressional authorization to fight the Islamic State — once framed by lawmakers as a matter of great constitutional import — is now seriously imperiled because Republicans think it does too little and Democrats think it does too much.
And neither the White House nor many members of Congress seemed in any rush to bridge the divide.
Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials urged members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday to approve Mr. Obama’s request, but it was clear during the contentious three-hour session that lawmakers were far from reaching any agreement.
When Mr. Obama, in his news conference after the midterm elections in November, announced he would seek specific authorization from Congress, he said, “The world needs to know we are united behind this effort.” But after the proposal went to Congress, there is little evidence that the administration has lobbied members to win support for its request, and few suggestions that Democratic and Republican lawmakers are successfully working toward an alternative.
Despite urging Congress to pass the authorization for military action, Mr. Kerry, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all made clear that they believed the administration already had the legal authority to pursue its military campaign against the Islamic State under two previous authorizations: one in 2001 allowing the president to fight a global war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and one in 2002 that enabled President George W. Bush to wage war in Iraq.
“The president already has statutory authority to act against ISIL,” Mr. Kerry said, referring to the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS. “But a clear and formal expression of this Congress’s backing at this moment in time would dispel doubts that might exist anywhere that Americans are united in this effort.”
Mr. Kerry also called on Congress to speak “with a single powerful voice at this pivotal hour.”
But given that military operations have been underway for months, the White House views the resolution as symbolically important but not required. [Continue reading…]
Jeffrey Lewis writes: I am old enough to remember when, back in 2006, I argued that the United States should let Iran keep 164 centrifuges in standby mode during talks. Do you know what people said? “164 centrifuges? Are you mad? You are giving away the store to the Iranians!” Well, now Iran has more than 15,000 centrifuges (that we know about) in at least two sites.
One of the most frustrating things about following the past decade of negotiations is watching the West make one concession after another — but only after the Iranians had moved so far forward that the concession had no value. The people arguing now for a “better” deal at some later date are the same people who in 2006 said 164 centrifuges was way too many and, that if we just held out long enough, we’d haggle the Iranians down to zero. Look what that got us.
This is a fantasy, a unicorn, the futile pursuit of which ends with a half-assed airstrike against Iran, a region in flames, and eventually an Iranian nuclear weapon. And let’s be clear: If negotiations collapse, the United States will take the blame from Europe and the sanctions regime will unravel. And here’s the best-case scenario:
Any military action against Iran will set its nuclear program back, at best, a couple of years. But the anger will last generations. [Continue reading…]
Rami G. Khouri writes: The contentious diplomatic drama of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress last week has now expanded into political farce, after 47 Republican senators sent a letter to the Iranian supreme leader this week.
The letter basically insulted the Iranians by suggesting that they did not know how the American political system operates, because, they argued, the next administration could reverse any agreement President Barack Obama reaches with Tehran.
The tension between the Republican-dominated Congress and Obama is nearly a constitutional crisis over the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign policy. It is also quite unusual to see a sitting Congress actively trying to thwart a foreign policy objective that the president is actively pursuing in close coordination with five other world powers.
Those issues will blow over in time, but the more lasting impact of these developments might well be the evolving relationship between the Israeli government, the Republican Party in the United States and the traditional bipartisan position in the U.S. to policy toward Israel and wider Middle Eastern issues. Both the right-wing Netanyahu-led coalition government and the Republican Party in Congress have reasons of their own to challenge President Barack Obama, and they have chosen the nuclear agreement being negotiated with Iran as the issue on which to confront him in a very hard and very public way. [Continue reading…]
The letter, organized by Senator Tom Cotton, a freshman from Arkansas, warned Iran that “we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
The New York Daily News on Tuesday put photos of Cotton, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on its front page along with the boldfaced headline “TRAITORS.” [Continue reading…]
Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Asked about the open letter of 47 US Senators to Iranian leaders, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.
Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.
Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.
The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.
He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution. [Continue reading…]
Elizabeth Drew writes: Ever since Hurricane Bibi blew through Washington last week, advocates and opponents of a possible nuclear agreement with Iran have been assessing the damage. It’s clear that the traditional bipartisan approach toward Israel has been smashed. But the essential question is what effect Netanyahu’s visit will have on the the nuclear deal and above all, whether Congress, by bringing it to a direct vote as it now threatens, will reject it, thus ending a long effort to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions and raising a long-term question as to whether US negotiators’ word amounts to anything.
Because the agreement — being negotiated by the Obama administration and fellow members of the P5+1 group –– isn’t a treaty, it doesn’t have to be approved by the Senate by a two-thirds vote. But since the existing strict economic sanctions on Iran were imposed by Congress, many members insist that they should have a voice in whether they can be lifted, as they would be in the agreement, in exchange for tight controls designed to prohibit Iran from developing nuclear weapons. What this is really about is whether Congress will have veto power over the agreement itself—a power that has become Netanyahu’s and other opponents’ chosen route for sinking a deal.
Hours after Netanyahu’s speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, apparently eager to capitalize on its rapturous reception by the mostly Republican audience, announced that he’d shortly move that the Senate immediately take up a resolution requiring a congressional vote on any agreement with Iran. This went against McConnell’s earlier pledge that the Senate would proceed according to the “regular order,” which would have meant that legislation had to be considered by the relevant committee, in this case Foreign Relations, before it could be brought to the floor; and two days later, he backed down after Democrats threatened to block the move. But this is most likely a temporary retreat on McConnell’s part. [Continue reading…]