Last week, negotiators attempted a final push for a nuclear agreement with Iran. While points of disagreement remained, both sides haven’t walked away from the negotiations. But what happens once both sides agree to a deal?
Before both parties begin implementing the agreement, Republicans in the US Congress will jump at the chance to kill the deal. They don’t want a ‘bad deal’—and according to them, the one the administration has been negotiating is just that. They aim to kill a deal by blocking the lift of congressional sanctions—essential to incentivise Iran to continue the implementation of its commitments.
In May, the US Congress passed legislation that ensures congressional oversight on an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. While Republicans tried to insert some controversial amendments, the final piece of legislation actually makes blocking the agreement difficult.
After the P5+1 and Iran announce the final agreement, the US delegation will need to fill in the blanks, annexes, associated certifications and final paperwork before it’s submitted to Congress. Had they reached an agreement by 9 July, Congress would have had 30 days to review it. But when the negotiators blew past yet another deadline last week, they resigned themselves to a 60-day review period.
What does this mean?
The additional 30-day review period allows Republicans to take the President on after the August congressional recess. Opponents of the agreement will need at least 13 Democratic votes in the Senate to build a veto-proof majority. Last Thursday, Republicans were focusing their efforts on a number of lawmakers, including undecided Democrats waiting to hear what was in the final agreement. But even if opponents could somehow manage to get a resolution expressing their disapproval, President Obama could still veto it.
Obama needs 34 votes in the Senate to sustain his veto—far from impossible. It’s worth noting that Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a fierce critic of Obama’s foreign policy, and known for his letter to the Iranian leadership a few months back, was the only senator to vote against the Iran review bill this Spring. According to him, the bill gives the ‘illusion of oversight without oversight’. It forces Congress to gather enough votes to prevent a veto, rather than requiring Obama to attract enough votes (67) to approve the agreement, like with a formal treaty. Under the bill, lawmakers can vote on a resolution of approval or disapproval. If Congress approves the deal or takes no action, implementation begins under the schedule that the pact will set. If they pass a resolution of disapproval, which is then vetoed by Obama, they will have up to another 22 days to override the veto with a two-thirds majority.
Needless to say, Congressional opposition to a deal may be vocal but it won’t kill a deal. What they can do however, is prevent Obama from permanently lifting US sanctions and create a wedge between the US and its allies in the P5+1.
Opposition to a deal isn’t limited to US Congress. Iran’s Majles (parliament) has its own hardliners too.
In June, Majles passed its own legislation, 213 to 10. The bill, which was subsequently approved by the Council of Guardians, forbids foreign access to its military, security, sensitive non-nuclear facilities and its nuclear scientists. It demands that all sanctions be lifted immediately, and gives Majles the right to ratify the Additional Protocol on wider inspections.
Interestingly, the bill effectively curtails parliament’s ability to veto a deal. While the original outline requires Majles to review it, the amended version submits the final agreement to the oversight of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s influence. Given Khamenei’s cautious support of the negotiators, it’s unlikely the SNSC will veto a final agreement. In a recent interview with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Deputy Foreign Minister and a lead Iranian negotiator, outlined that the bill required the Foreign Ministry to update the Majles on the progress of implementation every six months. This stems from parliament’s desire to be included in the negotiation and implementation process.
The immediate post-deal context won’t be easy to navigate. It’ll require both sides to engage in a great deal of campaigning about the merits of a final deal with Iran to convince domestic hardliners. But despite their vocal opposition, it’s unlikely the US Congress and Iranian parliament will actually derail the process.