After Final Senate Vote Fails, The Iran Nuclear Agreement Is A Done Deal
The final effort to block the Iran Nuclear Deal failed in the Senate yesterday, meaning that the deal will now move forward.
The final attempt by Senate Republicans to kill the Iran nuclear deal failed yesterday, meaning that the deal will now go forward:
U.S. Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked legislation meant to kill the Iran nuclear deal for a third time, securing perhaps the greatest foreign policy win of President Barack Obama’s six years in office and clearing the way to implement the accord.
By a 56-42 vote, the Republican-majority Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance in the 100-member chamber.
Despite an intense and expensive lobbying effort against it, all but four of Obama’s fellow Democrats backed the nuclear pact between the United States, five other world powers and Tehran announced in July.
With no more Senate votes this week, the result ensured Congress will not pass a resolution of disapproval that would have crippled the deal by eliminating Obama’s ability to waive many sanctions.
A resolution would have had to pass both the Senate and House of Representatives by midnight Thursday, and survive Obama’s veto, to be enacted.
The House, where Republicans also have a majority, never voted on the resolution, opting to pass three symbolic Iran-related measures that would not have affected the nuclear deal.
Two presidential hopefuls, Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, missed the vote after a debate in California last night in which Republicans bashed the Iran deal. Two others, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, voted with every other Senate Republican to advance the resolution.
Four Democrats, Senators Ben Cardin, Joe Manchin, Robert Menendez and Charles Schumer, voted with the Republicans to advance the disapproval resolution all three times.
Angry Republicans accused Democrats of denying the disapproval measure its due consideration in order to keep Obama from having to use his veto power.
“It will go into effect without the American people having their say,” said John Cornyn, the Senate’s second-ranked Republican.
Democrats accused Republicans of staging futile votes to embarrass the White House, while wasting time that could have been spent reaching a budget compromise to avoid a government shutdown on Sept. 30.
This outcome, of course, was largely foreordained. We’ve known for weeks now that Senate Democrats had at least enough votes to sustain a Presidential veto of a disapproval resolution, and shortly after Congress returned from recess it became clear that there was enough support to filibuster the resolution and prevent it from passing the Senate altogether. Last week, we saw Senate Democrats do just that while Republicans in the House struggled to even put together a strategy after conservatives in the GOP Caucus tried a last minute gambit that even Mitch McConnell agreed has no chance of succeeding. Since then, the Senate has tried to break the Democratic filibuster unsuccessfully while many conservatives have attacked McConnell for his apparent refusal to consider the so-called “nuclear option” of eliminating the filibuster entirely or even just for the vote on the nuclear deal. The fact that these were many of the same people who were defending the filibuster when Republicans were in the minority, and that the people leading the charge were members of the House rather than the Senate, made their attacks against McConnell seem rather silly.
In the end, of course, this outcome was largely inevitable. It never seemed likely that Republicans would be able to persuade 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 Democrats in the House to vote against the deal, and even less likely that they would be able to persuade that many to agree to override a Presidential veto on such an important high-stakes issue. Additionally, while there has been some complaint that this deal should have been submitted to the Senate as a treaty, which would have required 67 votes for ratification, there seems to ample historical and legal evidence that the deal is not in fact a treaty, but rather a executive agreement. Under that theory, President Obama theoretically might not have needed to submit the agreement to Congress at all, so the review process granted by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act actually gave Congress more of a say than it otherwise would have.
Whatever the political arguments may be at this point, though, the deal is going forward and the Administration is taking steps to implement it:
Following a final failed attempt by Senate Republicans to kill the Iran nuclear agreement Thursday, the administration moved aggressively toward putting it into effect, naming a new czar to oversee implementation and announcing that President Obama would issue waivers suspending all U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Oct. 18.
The waivers will not go into effect until what the agreement itself calls “Implementation Day,” when the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies that Iran has complied with all of its obligations — including removal of 98 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile, shutting down its underground enrichment facility and rendering inoperative the core of a plutonium-capable reactor.
Senior administration officials said those processes could take well into 2016 once they begin next month, under the terms of the deal completed in July.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry appointed a career foreign service officer, Stephen D. Mull, as implementation coordinator among U.S. agencies and negotiating partners, reporting directly to the secretary’s office. Before his most recent job as U.S. ambassador to Poland, Mull played a key role in early negotiations with Iran.
Under provisions of the agreement, it must be formally adopted by all parties — including the United States, the five other world powers who participated in the negotiations, and Iran — 90 days after the U.N. Security Council approved it in July. That day is Oct. 18.
From then on, said one of several senior administration officials who briefed reporters on implementation steps, “the ball is in Iran’s court.” The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity under rules set by the State Department.
The IAEA must verify all compliance steps in the deal have been taken, along with verification that Iran has satisfied the agency’s questions about previous nuclear activities at military installations, “before sanctions relief is offered,” an administration official said. “Implementation day is unknown at this point.”
Signing of the waivers in advance — along with steps expected on Oct. 18 by the European Union to prepare to lift its own nuclear-related sanctions — were included in the deal as a demonstration of good faith as Iran begins its dismantlement.
On the day sanctions are removed, Iranian oil sales and financial transactions with much of the world are free to resume and frozen Iranian assets will be released, although prohibitions against arms sales and the transfer of missile technology will remain in effect for five and eight years, respectively
U.S. interaction with Iran will be limited as sanctions related to Iranian support for terrorism will remain in effect. The U.S. waivers, which the president must renew every three to six months, can be reversed if Iran fails to comply with the agreement.
Going forward, we can expect to see many debates about whether or not Iran is complying with the agreement that are likely to be just as contentious as the debate over the deal itself and the debates that have taken place in the U.S. and elsewhere over Iran’s nuclear program for years now. Critics of the deal, no doubt, will claim that Iran isn’t complying with the agreement from the beginning, but the real test will be when it comes time for Tehran to comply with inspection requests and other requirements imposed on them by the International Atomic Energy Association and the United Nations pursuant to the deal. Some analysts, in fact, have suggested that the deal may actually make military action against Iran in the event of a violation easier because it would provide a legal basis for reimposing sanctions and, if necessary, military action. Before this deal, neither the United States nor any other nation would have had a legitimate basis under international law for attacking Iran over its nuclear program, and its probable that such an attack would not have had the support of America’s European allies. With the deal in the place, the dynamics of the international community could change significantly if it can be proven that Iran did in fact violate the agreement.
Before we get to that point, though, it’s at least worth letting the process play out to see how Iranian behavior changes going forward. This is one of the reasons why the responses of several of the Republican candidates on this issue at Wednesday’s debate were so concerning. Candidates like Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and several others, said that they would tear up the deal on their first day in office, which is obviously little more than grandstanding and pandering to the GOP base. Despite that, a response like that reveals much about the judgment of the candidate involved to the point where I think it’s fair to say that any candidate who would take that position quite simply should not be taken seriously. The nuclear deal with Iran is not perfect, but then diplomatic agreements are seldom are, but it is better than a status quo that was allowing to Iran to continue its nuclear research without any international supervision and it’s better than the vision of perpetual conflict that the deal’s opponents, who failed to present any viable alternative, were offering.