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Was the 98 to 1 U.S. Senate vote on the Iran Deal a “rebuke” of President Obama?

At a conclusion of an Iconoclast post on the Twitter battle between Iranian Foreign Minister and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), set against the backdrop of yesterday’s virtually unanimous vote for the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA), we wrote:

While [Senator] Cotton’s proposed amendment might void the Israel amendment of Rubio, it will make more complicated Majority Leader senator Mitch McConnell’s management of the INARA legislation as he seeks to assure passage early in the week of May 4th.  Stay tuned for developments.

The Hill, while trumpeting Thursday’s  Senate vote of 98 to 1, noted  what Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was forced to do to assure passage of the compromised version brokered by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD):

Republicans also expressed frustrations that they could not offer more amendments to the bill.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed a motion to end debate after Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cotton tried to force a vote on an amendment requiring Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist as part of a final deal.

The move was a reversal of the open amendment process Republican leadership pledged to bring to the Senate.

McConnell said Thursday that he would have preferred that amendments be added to the bill, but that it might have invited a presidential veto.

“If we didn’t face the threats of filibusters, or the blocking of amendments, or the specter of presidential vetoes, this bill would be a heck of a lot stronger. I assure you,: he said. “But the truth is, we do. That’s the frustrating reality.”

But note the actions of GOP 2016 Presidential Contenders, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX):

Rubio slammed the decision not to allow his amendment requiring Iran to support Israel as part of a deal to come up for a vote, saying that some senators are “terrified” of voting against it.

“Apparently there are senators terrified of voting against that amendment, so they’d rather not have a vote at all. So I am deeply disappointed by the direction this has taken,” he said.

But, he added that he would support the final bill, suggesting that it was better than nothing.

“At a minimum at least it creates a process whereby the American people through their representatives can debate an issue of extraordinary importance,” he said. “So I hope this bill passes here today so at least we’ll have a chance to weigh in.”

Rubio’s remarks separate him from his presidential rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who said on Wednesday that the legislation is a “bad bill.”

But Cruz voted in favor of the bill after voting against ending debate on it.

“I voted no on cloture because we should have insisted on amendments to put real teeth in this bill,” the Texas Republican said. “Ultimately, I voted yes on final passage because it may delay, slightly, President Obama’s ability to lift the Iran sanctions and it ensures we will have a Congressional debate on the merits of the Iran deal.”

Cruz was joined in voting against ending debate by fellow GOP Sens. Charles Grassley (Iowa), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Mike Lee (Utah) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska).

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was absent for the vote.

In the end, Rubio and Cruz voted for the Corker-Cardin compromise. Given comments by House Speaker Boehner  the measure will easily secure House approval enabling INARA to go to President for his signature.  The measure will give the Senate a 30 day window for review of any agreement that surfaces from the current P5+1 negotiations  and  may require periodic review of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism and ICBM development. At best  INARA  will put a temporary hold on the President lifting sanctions including suggestions giving Iran  ‘signing bonuses” estimated at $30 to 50 Billion. Release of these impounded funds might enable Iran to achieve nuclear threshold status and develop both a nuclear warhead and an ICBM to deliver it for hegemonic purposes. However, should the Senate disapprove the measure on less than an unanimous level, the President can veto it and proceed with his plan to have it ratified by a UN Security Council Resolution.  This would achieve his questionable legacy of allegedly turning Iran from a rogue terror supporting global state terrorism  to a ‘respected member of the world community’. As the hoary English proverb  says: “ if wishes were horses beggars would ride”.

Would this near unanimous Senate vote have been rendered without Israeli PM Minister Netanyahu addressing a joint meeting of Congress  about a “very bad deal” over the objections of President Obama and Democratic Senators? The lone exception to the chorus of Democratic nay-sayers was the original co-sponsor of a tougher version of INARA, New Jersey  Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who was forced to step down as Ranking Member of Senate Foreign Relations because of a Department of Justice indictment for alleged corruption charges.  Or was action on INARA perhaps prompted by the outrage over Senator Cotton’s much maligned letter signed by 46 Republican colleagues  tweeted to Iran’s Islamic Republic leaders about Senate Constitutional prerogatives on approval of treaties and major international agreements?  His twitter war with Foreign Minister Zarif may have been a side show, but the message was clear about the lack of trust in any deal with Iran that isn’t verifiable and transparent.  Senator Cotton’s procedural amendments did precipitate the call for cloture on floor amendments by Majority Leader McConnell.  Cotton’s lone vote against the compromise version of INARA on his valued stand, that any P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran should be in the category of  a treaty requiring a two thirds vote by the senior chamber of Congress may also sent an important message.

Could his protest vote been a prescient warning to his Senate colleagues about the dangers inherent in any P5+1 deal to America and Israel that emerges for review after June 30th?  Again, stay tuned for developments.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Corker Bill, as passed, is worse than useless

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) after the near unanimous vote on Iran Nuclear Review Act (INARA), May 7, 2015.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Unanimously Approves Iran Nuke Review Legislation

Our Iconoclast post title about a denouement today on the P5+1 Iran Nuke agreement review legislation was realized this afternoon in a unanimous Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote approving a compromise measure. The Committee action reasserted   Constitutional prerogatives forcing President Obama to relent his opposition. The vote was 19 to 0 based on the compromise language worked out between Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). Assenting to the new version of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review  Act of 2015, originally co-sponsored by embattled  New Jersey U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and Sen. Corker, were two Committee Members, announced GOP Presidential Contenders, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).  Corker had not been a signatory to Arkansas Tom Cotton’s letter that was sent to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic in Tehran apprising them of the Senate’s advice and consent on major treaties and agreements.

This legislative victory preserves the right of the Congress to review changes in the prevailing sanctions against Iran occasioned by the presentation of the Administration of any definitive agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran by the intended date of June 30, 2015.  Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif announced at a ministerial meeting in Spain today, that negotiations leading towards a possible definitive agreement would start April 21st in Lausanne, Switzerland.  U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said the House would approve the veto proof measure. A vote on the measure should reach the floor of the Senate shortly, at which time Amendments might be introduced for possible consideration.

Tower report noted:

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the committee, said that the legislation, which passed 19-0, “absolutely, 100% keeps the congressional review process — the integrity of it — in place.”

The compromise language, which was worked out by Corker and ranking Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin (D – Md.), shortened the amount of time of Congress would get to review a nuclear agreement with Iran from 60 days to 30, and softened some other provisions of the bill.

The bill is consistent with a poll released today by Suffolk University showing that Americans favor congressional review of any nuclear deal with Iran by a wide margin—72% to 19%.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that President Barack Obama would sign the compromise bill, reversing the administration’s longstanding objection to any congressional oversight of a potential nuclear deal with Iran.

The New York Times reported how quickly Administration opposition to the legislation had folded:

Why Mr. Obama gave in after fierce opposition was the last real dispute of what became a rout. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said Mr. Obama was not “particularly thrilled” with the bill, but had decided that a new proposal put together by the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made enough changes to make it acceptable.

“We’ve gone from a piece of legislation that the president would veto to a piece of legislation that’s undergone substantial revision such that it’s now in the form of a compromise that the president would be willing to sign,” Mr. Earnest said. “That would certainly be an improvement.”

Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the committee’s chairman, had a far different interpretation. As late as 11:30 a.m., in a classified briefing at the Capitol, Mr. Kerry was urging senators to oppose the bill. The “change occurred when they saw how many senators were going to vote for this, and only when that occurred,” Mr. Corker said.

Mr. Cardin said that the “fundamental provisions” of the legislation had not changed.

But the compromise between him and Mr. Corker did shorten a review period of a final Iran nuclear deal and soften language that would make the lifting of sanctions dependent on Iran’s ending support for terrorism.

The agreement almost certainly means Congress will muscle its way into nuclear negotiations that Mr. Obama sees as a legacy-defining foreign policy achievement.

Under the agreement, the president would still have to send periodic reports to Congress on Iran’s activities regarding ballistic missiles and terrorism, but those reports could not trigger another round of sanctions.

The Times reported possible floor actions that might resurrect original provisions:

The measure still faces hurdles. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, fresh off the opening of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, dropped plans to push for an amendment to make any Iran deal dependent on the Islamic Republic’s recognition of the State of Israel, a diplomatic nonstarter.

But he hinted that he could try on the Senate floor.

“Not getting anything done plays right into the hands of the administration,” Mr. Rubio said.

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, abandoned an amendment to make any Iran accord into a formal international treaty needing two-thirds of the Senate for its ratification, but he, too, said it could be revived before the full Senate.

The measure will be brought up for a floor vote later this month and is expected to pass both the Senate and the House in near veto proof form.

It is clear that the victors in this battle are the Republican Majority and concerned Democrats who have been monitoring polls and constituent opinions regarding Congressional Review prerogatives.  In retrospect  Sen. Cotton’s letter and the March 3rd address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a Joint Meeting of Congress alerted  Americans to problems with the P5+1 framework for a deal  announced on April 2nd despite the objections of President Obama and certain leading Democratic minority members of both the Senate and House. Perhaps the diktats announced last Thursday by Ayatollah Khamenei demanding the lifting of all sanctions upon signing of an agreement and denial of intrusive IAEA inspections of military nuclear weapons development sites conveyed to Senate Democrats that there were different opinions about the two Facts Statements. The one released by the State Department versus that of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Add to that was Monday’s removal of a 2010 moratorium on the sale of an advanced Russian S-300 air defense system to Iran an indication that President Putin and Ayatollah Khamenei could void weapons sanctions agreements at will.

The losers in this episode are Secretary Kerry and President Obama. How those negotiations go starting April 21st will determine if Congress will have anything to review on June 30th.

RELATED ARTICLE: Commentators On Arab TV: Obama Supports Iran Because His Father Was A Shi’ite

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). Source: Politico

If you want to know what’s in the Nuclear Deal with Iran — Ask Tehran

Yesterday, we wrote how 47 Republican Senators, led by Arkansas U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, did us a real favor when they sent an open letter to the “Leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran”. By published the open letter to Iran’s leaders, responses from Tehran revealed that the Congress may be by-passed and its approval might not be required to ratify a nuclear deal with Iran. Secretary of State Kerry indicated during his Senate Armed Services Hearing Wednesday that the Memorandum of Understanding was “non-binding” and thus no approval was required. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki affirmed that position. The White House “We the People” website petition campaign created by  “C.H.” of Bogota, New Jersey accused the 47 signatories of ‘traitorous’ actions violating the 1799 Logan Act which  bars private persons, but not members of Congress, from conducting  foreign relations was simply a smokescreen. Ditto for the New York Daily News front page and editorial declaration published Tuesday. 

Two independent legal experts confirmed the Constitutional requirements for review of foreign treaties and Congressional executive agreements. Sen. Cotton’s letter also pointed out that any executive order signed by the President may not survive past the end of his term in 22 months and might be modified or terminated for cause by any successor. That raised a question of why the Memorandum of Understanding was non-binding. That provoked responses from both Foreign Minister Zarif and Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Khamenei.  While the latter railed in rhetoric about how the GOP initiative reflected “the disintegration of the U.S.” and why our representations can’t be trusted and laughing at the State Department citing Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. It was left to Foreign Minister Zarif, to reveal that Congress wouldn’t have to approve anything saying: “The executive agreement was not bilateral but rather multi-lateral with the rest of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, subject to a resolution of the Security Council.”

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu wrote in a Jewish Press article published today, “U.N. Security Council’s lifting of sanctions and endorsement of a deal might make Congress irrelevant.” He then cites the observation of Omri Ceren, Communications Director for the Washington, DC-based The Israel Project:

The letter forced the Administration to explain why they’re icing Congress out of Iran negotiations, and now that explanation has ignited a firestorm. The administration looks like it intentionally chose a weaker, non-binding arrangement, rather than a treaty, to avoid Senate oversight

After we published our clarification of Sen. Cotton’s letter, our colleague Ken Timmerman wrote and thanked us for our piece. He said more would be revealed in his FrontPage Magazine, article published today, “Iran Deal Secrets Revealed – by Iran.”

Here are some excerpts from the Timmerman article.

On why Zarif said Congressional approval wasn’t required:

 That if the current negotiation with P5+1 result[s] 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.

Timmerman’s observation:

The Obama administration has told Congress that it won’t submit the nuclear agreement with Iran for Congressional approval, but now Zarif is saying that it will be submitted to the United Nations, to form the basis of a United Nations Security Council resolution, presumably aimed at lifting UN sanctions on Iran.

That prompted Sen. Coker (R-TN) and Foreign Relations Senate Committee chair co-sponsor of The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 to write President Obama Thursday:

There are now reports that your administration is contemplating taking an agreement, or aspects of it, to the United Nations Security Council for a vote.

Enabling the United Nations to consider an agreement or portions of it, while simultaneously threatening to veto legislation that would enable Congress to do the same, is a direct affront to the American people and seeks to undermine Congress’s appropriate role.

Timmerman then recounts the repeated Iranian violations of the interim Joint Plan of Action adopted in November 2013 and how the Administration has caved to Iran’s demands:

When the negotiations began, the U.S. was insisting that Iran comply with five United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend all uranium enrichment. Now the discussion is on how many centrifuges Iran can spin, and more importantly, how many new generation (and more efficient) centrifuges Iran can install.

On issue after issue, it’s the United States – not Iran – that has given way. When Iran got caught violating the terms of the November 2013 agreement within the first two months, by enriching fresh batches of uranium to 20%, the United States pretended not to notice.

When the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed that Iran had produced fresh batches of 20% uranium on Jan. 20, 2014, no one called it a violation, highlighting instead Iranian steps to convert a portion of the 20% uranium into fuel rods for a research reactor.

Anyone who was been observing Iran’s nuclear cheat and retreat over the past twenty years recognizes the pattern: Iran is constantly pushing the limits, and when they get called out, they take a step backwards until they think we are no longer watching, when they do it again.

And we never punish them. Not ever.

Timmerman asked a rhetorical question and gave the obvious answer:

Can Obama legally circumvent Congress and go directly to the United Nations?

Undoubtedly, just as he could ignore multiple U.S. laws – and his own statements – that prevented him for granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens by Executive Order.

But if the Iranians really believe they can find sanctuary from Congress in Turtle Bay, former White House speech writer Marc Thiessen suggests they should think again.

“The US constitution trumps international law. The U.S. constitutional trumps the United Nations,” he told FoxNews anchor Megyn Kelly on Thursday. “The Supreme Court has actually ruled on this.”

It should be crystal clear to anyone observing the U.S.-Iran charade what Tehran wants from these talks: absolute victory over the United States.

Iran’s “moderate” president Hassan Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator himself, said it the day the November 2013 agreement was announced: “In #Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iran’s national will,” he tweeted victoriously.

So why is Iran engaging in this subterfuge?  It is all about achieving victory, meaning continuing the inevitable development of nuclear weapons, and having their financial sanctions lifted:

This is the deal-maker for the Iranian regime, the one thing they want so bad they actually will make concessions to achieve it.

But wait: even though the Iranians claim the sanctions are unjust, and that all the sanctions imposed over the past two decades must be removed instantaneously for a deal to be signed, that does not mean they will walk away if some sanctions stay in place.

“What they really care about are the financial sanctions,” an Iranian businessman familiar with the way the Tehran regime moves money told me. “As long as they can use and move dollars, the rest they don’t care about.”

Iran has lived so long with sanctions on dual use technology and weapons procurement that they have learned how to get around them. “They can get anything they want,” the businessman told me. “It may cost them 5 percent or 10 percent more, but they consider that the cost of doing business.”

So be prepared for a last minute, Hail Mary deal that will lift financial sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iranian promises not to build the bomb.

If such a deal will prevent or even delay a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East is anyone’s guess.

Remember, Sen. Cotton’s observation in a Tweet, after hearing Secretary Kerry’s testimony on Capitol Hill, Wednesday:

cotton tweet on iranEDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, second from right. Source: CNN September 2014.