Andrew Harnik / Getty Images

Iran nuclear accord faces next hurdle: Opposition in Congress

Congressional Republicans have said they will try to sink the deal, although a veto-proof majority is unlikely

WASHINGTON — After 20 months of talks, negotiators from six nations announced early Tuesday morning that they reached a historic agreement with Iran to limit the nation’s nuclear capability in exchange for lifting punishing international sanctions.

Now Barack Obama’s administration must begin the work of persuading skeptical lawmakers at home from both parties to give their stamp of approval to the accord — or at least keep them from scuttling the deal before it can be put into place.

Under the terms of legislation passed in May, Congress has 60 days to review the deal and pass a resolution accepting or rejecting the accord. A resolution of disapproval would prevent Obama from lifting sanctions put in place by Congress — a critical part the agreement.

Announcing the deal early Tuesday morning, Obama said he welcomed a “robust debate” on the issue but promised a veto on anything that would stand in the way of its “successful implementation.”

“I will remind Congress that you don’t make deals like this with your friends. We negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union when that nation was committed to our destruction. And those agreements ultimately made us safer,” he said. “I am confident that this deal will meet the national security interest of the United States and our allies.”

It appears unlikely that there would be enough votes in both the House and the Senate to override a veto — at least two-thirds of each chamber would be needed to do so — but the president is reported to be eager for the endorsement of Congress and the U.S. public on an accord as significant as this one, both for its foreign policy implications and for his legacy.

Winning over critics and skeptics will be a challenge for the administration in the coming weeks. Leading Republicans have expressed deep reservations about the accord on the basis of a framework agreement presented earlier this year; the final accord’s details will be made available to lawmakers in the coming days.

“Instead of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, this deal is likely to fuel a nuclear arms race around the world,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Tuesday.

“If it is in fact as bad a deal as I think it is at this moment, we’re going to do everything we can to stop it,” he later told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a co-author of the legislation that gave Congress the authority to review the deal, indicated that he saw no long-term benefits from the accord beyond its 10-year life span and said lifting sanctions now would be a mistake.

“I am gravely concerned that the nuclear agreement will condemn the next generation to living with an Iranian nuclear power in the Persian Gulf and ultimately endanger the security of the United States, Israel and other regional allies over the long term,” he said.

Some Democrats, meanwhile, held off on passing judgment on the deal but sounded a note of caution.

“Over the coming days, I intend to go through this agreement with a fine-tooth comb, speak with administration officials and hear from experts on all sides,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in a statement. “I supported legislation ensuring that Congress would have time and space to review the deal, and now we must use it well. Supporting or opposing this agreement is not a decision to be made lightly, and I plan to carefully study the agreement before making an informed decision.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., also promised a painstaking review that would hold the deal to high standards.

“There is no trust when it comes to Iran,” he said in a statement. “In our deliberations we need to ensure the negotiations resulted in a comprehensive, long-lasting and verifiable outcome that also provides for snap-back of sanctions should Iran deviate from its commitments.”

Nonetheless, Obama has important allies on Capitol Hill in his push to sell the accord. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been supportive of the administration’s diplomatic efforts with Iran and could help wrangle Democratic lawmakers if she endorses the final deal. An additional 150 Democratic lawmakers from the House signed a letter encouraging the negotiations, indicating they will likely back the agreement.  

Some lawmakers applauded the Obama administration for choosing to pursue a diplomatic solution with Iran over a military one.

“This is a victory for diplomacy over saber rattling and could keep the United States from being drawn into another never-ending war in the Middle East,” said 2016 presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “I look forward to learning more about the complex details of this agreement to make sure that it is effective and strong.”

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter