Friday, July 25, 2014

Senate willingness to consider an Iran deal

Sometimes the thing that doesn't happen is the big news. What didn't happen this week suggests that the U.S. Senate may actually consider a future agreement limiting Iran's nuclear program on its merits, rather than demanding a complete capitulation by Iran on major issues still to be resolved.

Last March, Foreign Relations Chairman Menendez [D-NJ] headed a list of 81 Senators signing a letter to President Obama laying out "core principles" that should be followed in reaching any deal with Iran. The letter was pushed by AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby group, which usually can get 60+ Senators to sign any letter it urges, often within 24 hours.

On  July 11, Menendez and Lindsey Graham [R-SC] sent around a new letter with a much tougher and more explicit list of conditions, which they planned to send to the President on July 16. This week,  however, according to Politico, only about 20 Senators had signed on, and Sen.Graham was quoted as saying they'll wait until they have 30 signatories.

In a further sign of senatorial willingness to wait and see what any final agreement might contain, most of the Democratic and Republican leaders of the key committees have withheld their signatures. These include the top members of the armed services committee, the senior Republican on foreign relations, and the Democrat heading the banking committee, which writes the sanctions laws. All of these men had signed the March letter.
I don't want to do anything to undermine the negotiations," said Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the chair of the Armed Services Committee. "I think it's a mistake to put in stone what I would vote against unless certain criteria were met."
But even Republicans who agreed to the March letter, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, thought the latest letter went too far. Sessions, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he wanted to give the president the chance to present and argue for his deal.

"I don't want to gratuitously condemn or throw out suggestions as to what the right solution should be," Sessions said. "I think the president should negotiate something and I think he should run it by Congress."
To me these comments and non-actions are welcome signs of statesmanship on this difficult issue.

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