Senate Rejects Toughened Legislation on Iran Deal

Amendment would require that any nuclear agreement with Iran be approved by 2/3 majority in Congress.

Elad Benari ,

Senate building
Senate building

The United States Senate on Tuesday rejected an amendment toughening legislation that would require that any nuclear agreement with Iran be approved by Congress, hours after Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid warned Republicans not to use the bill as a "platform for their political ambitions." 

The amendment specified that a nuclear deal would have to be approved by a two thirds majority.

According to Reuters, the Senate voted 57-39 to reject the measure, which Republican Senator Ron Johnson offered as an amendment to the Iran Nuclear Review Act, a bill requiring an Iran nuclear deal to be reviewed by Congress.

The amendment's backing by 39 Republicans signaled that there could be intense debate in the coming days as the Senate hammers out its final version of the legislation.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Senate Republicans were among those voting for the amendment, despite an emotional appeal against it from Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and author of the bill, noted Reuters.

Corker and Senator Ben Cardin, the committee's top Democrat, have been working against so-called "poison pill" amendments seeking to toughen the bill, which they say would kill its chances of becoming law by alienating Democrats and provoking a veto by Democratic President Barack Obama.

Obama had indeed threatened to veto the bill as a threat to ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran until last week, when leaders of the foreign relations panel agreed on a compromise that removed many of the measure's strictest provisions.

The White House has made clear the veto threat would be back in place if the measure were significantly amended as it moves through the Senate and House of Representatives, noted Reuters.

Speaking before the vote, Reid urged Republicans to back the legislation but warned GOP presidential hopefuls not to use it as a "platform for their political ambitions," according to The Associated Press (AP).

"A number of my Republican colleagues have stated publicly, in their efforts to be a Republican nominee for president, what they want to do with this bill," Reid said, according to AP.

"I'm concerned that they and others want to use this good, bipartisan piece of legislation as a platform for their political ambitions. This bill is too important to be a pawn in anyone's political game," he warned.

The legislation would have blocked Obama from waiving congressional sanctions for at least 30 days while lawmakers weigh in. It would also stipulate that if senators disapprove the deal, Obama would lose authority to waive certain economic penalties — an event that would certainly prompt a presidential veto.

Discussion of the legislation comes as Iran and the West continue talks on a permanent nuclear deal, after reaching a framework earlier this month.

Tensions arose after the preliminary framework was reached, as Iran recently accused the United States of "fraud" and "psychological warfare" in publishing a fact sheet announcing what the U.S. claims was agreed on in the framework deal and which an Iranian official called a false translation.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that the world is "closer than ever" to reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, but warned that work on a deal is far from over and that key issues remain unresolved.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has dismissed possible pressure from Congress over the deal, saying the disputes between the Obama administration and Congress are an "internal issue".

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has also indicated that it is not his country’s problem if Congress takes measures against the deal, saying that Iran holds Obama responsible for its implementation.