Lead negotiator Wendy Sherman confirmed for journalists yesterday that the Obama administration will, over the next few days, pursue a binding United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSCR) that will lift sanctions on Iran. The resolution was circulated yesterday by the U.S. and a leaked text is already online. When asked how the move could be reconciled with the 60 day Congressional review period mandated by the Corker legislation, Sherman sarcastically responded that you can't really say "well excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress" because there has to be some way for "the international community to speak." She noted that at least the UNSCR would have a 90 day interim period before its mandatory obligations kick in.
The gambit undermines the Corker bill - to say nothing of American sovereignty - on multiple levels. On a policy level, the UNSCR on its own would compel American action even if Congress rejects the Iran deal. On a political level, the administration intends to take the UNSCR and go to lawmakers while they're considering the deal and say 'you can't reject the agreement because it would put America in violation of international law.'
The pushback from the Hill yesterday was immediate and furious. Corker: "an affront to the American people... an affront to Congress and the House of Representatives". Cardin: "it would be better not to have action on the U.N. resolution". Cruz: "our Administration intended all along to circumvent this domestic review by moving the agreement to the UN Security Council before the mandatory 60-day review period ends". Kirk: "a breathtaking assault on American sovereignty and Congressional prerogative". McConnell: "violates the spirit of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which the President signed into law... inconceivable - yet sadly not surprising".
The Washington Post article at the bottom covers some of those statements and has a bunch of background. The story will develop throughout the day and through the beginning of next week. It's going to be particularly brutal given that the Corker legislation was created and passed to stop exactly this scenario.
Remember how we got here. The March 9 Cotton letter, signed by 47 Senators, declared that without Congressional buy-in any deal with Iran would not be binding on future presidents.
Iranian FM Zarif responded with a temper tantrum in which he revealed that the parties intended to fast-track an UNSCR that would make Congress irrelevant and tie the hands of future presidents: "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". That created a firestorm of criticism from the Hill. Zarif doubled down from the stage at NYU: "within a few days after [an agreement] we will have a resolution in the security council ... which will be mandatory for all member states, whether Senator Cotton likes it or not".
And so Congress responded with the Corker legislation. 98 Senators and 400 Representatives passed the bill with the intention of preventing the Obama administration from immediately going to the U.N. after an agreement and making good on Zarif's boast. President Obama signed the bill. Now the administration is doing exactly what the legislation was designed to prohibit.The Washington Post adds:
In a letter Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and ranking Democrat Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.) urged Obama to postpone U.N. consideration of the agreement until Congress can review it and potentially vote on its own assessment.
The Republican chairmen of the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees sent a similar letter to the White House on Wednesday.
In a compromise reached in May with Congress, Obama agreed not to use his authority to waive U.S. sanctions against Iran for at least 60 days after a deal was reached. The review begins when the text of the agreement is delivered to lawmakers this weekend.
During that period, Congress has the option of voting, by a simple majority, to “disapprove” it and permanently bar a sanctions waiver. Obama has said he would veto such legislation. For the moment, the administration is certain it has enough votes among Democrats to prevent a veto override, which requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers.
If a veto were overridden — cementing Congress’s official disapproval — a State Department official said this week that “we don’t have authority to provide U.S. sanctions relief” and that “the deal won’t proceed.”
White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said Thursday that “we will not begin implementation of the plan until after the congressional review period is over.” The 90-day delay, officials said, also gives Iran time to begin taking steps to comply with the deal and allows the International Atomic Energy Agency to prepare for its inspection and verification role.That's not the point. If the UN passes a binding resolution and then Congress says 'no,' then what? The whole point is to give Congress its say - essentially making any US signature on a deal non-binding - until Congress votes up or down. Obama agreed to that in May. Now he's welching on his agreement. Color me unsurprised.
UPDATE 7:09 PM
Please make sure to read the comment posted below. Obama may well be forcing Israel to be the only country in the world that objects to Iran being a nuclear power. Maybe the Saudis would like to object?