A preliminary deal between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, is a triumph of patience and shows a willingness to put cooperation and peace before confrontation and war.
Now it’s up to Congress not to mess it up.
Early responses from conservative Republicans, many of them pandering to Israel’s right-wing, have been critical of the agreement announced Thursday. But the deal they want wouldn’t be a deal at all. It would be a capitulation by Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear program. The proposed deal allows Iran to retain thousands of centrifuges but prohibits their use for developing weapons-grade plutonium.
The Senate must approve treaties by a two-thirds vote, but the deal to ease economic sanctions imposed on Iran is an agreement between world powers and Iran. It is not legally binding and therefore requires no congressional approval.
Nonetheless, some in Congress are demanding that there be a vote on the deal. Otherwise, Congress could strip President Obama of his control over sanctions, effectively undermining the agreement. Of course, 47 Republican senators already attempted that in a letter to Iran’s leaders, reminding them that Obama’s word is meaningless without congressional support. The Iranians still agreed to the deal, which the parties hope to finalize by June 30.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says Congress will exercise its “rightful role” in reviewing the agreement. Obama said there may be a way to give Congress a role without giving up the president’s constitutional authority to take executive actions.
On Sunday, Corker sounded a positive note by saying that a successful move to require congressional approval wouldn’t necessarily mean a rejection of the deal.
It “doesn’t mean there won’t be a deal,” Corker said. “We just set in place a process to ensure that if there’s a deal, it’s a deal that will stand the test of time, that will keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
It would be a national and international failure if a Congress that can’t act because of partisan gridlock moves from do nothing to undoing something. In this case, the “something” is a major step toward reducing the possibility of military action over Iran’s nuclear program and an opportunity to bring that isolated nation into economic engagement with Western powers. Iran as an economic partner is far better than Iran as a military opponent.
The sanctions against Iran worked, albeit with a push from the collapse of oil prices. The argument from conservatives and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that the sanctions should remain or even be intensified because Iran is responding to their effect. But a hard line only strengthens the hardliners in Iran who have always opposed negotiations. It also allows Iran to continue with its nuclear program without any restrictions.
The United States can afford to wait and see whether Iran will abide by its agreement. If not, sanctions can be reimposed, and, if necessary, military action can follow.
Opponents of the deal say that the United States may be safely removed from Iran but that Israel is not. But Obama repeated Sunday that the United States would come to Israel’s aid in the event of any attack.
Beyond the proposed agreement being sensible and far preferable to the alternatives, it’s popular with the American public. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that by a nearly 2-to-1 margin Americans approved of a deal that would limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for easing sanctions.
The agreement deserves the same support from Congress.