There is a time and a place for everything. Now is a time for celebration: after months of tireless negotiations and decades of hostilities, Iran and the P5+1 (United States, China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and Germany) have reached an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. The deal, announced on Tuesday morning, is nothing short of historic.
Negotiators blew past deadline after deadline, debated sticking points and came with innovative solutions to longstanding problems. John Kerry and Javad Zarif both announced extensions of the talks to disappointed journalists in Vienna and to groaning audiences back home. A self-imposed deadline didn’t keep these negotiators from reaching what they all knew to be a win-win outcome. On Tuesday morning, history was made. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was agreed upon by the P5+1 and Iran.
This kicks off a 60- day review period, during which Congress will scrutinize and debate the merits of the JCPOA. The document is over 150 pages long, but the White House and the E.U. have uploaded condensed and easily-accessible copies for all to review. For those who are genuinely interested in what the deal contains, this makes for important (if slightly technical) reading. But the real problem is that those who are most vehemently opposed to a deal - any deal - couldn’t be bothered the slightest in reading it. Some members of congress (and perhaps more importantly some billionaire backers of groups against any sort of deal with Iran) are going to oppose the deal no matter its popularity with the American people or how much it serves U.S. interests. Without congressional backing, the deal will die. This is why the time to fight the real battle for diplomacy - which will take place in the U.S. Congress - will soon come.
Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Bob Corker (R-TN) are leading the charge against the deal. They will likely move to propose a resolution of disapproval. Such a measure, if passed, would strip Obama of his ability to waive sanctions - an essential part of the deal. Without the lifting of sanctions, the deal will simply collapse. The President stated unequivocally on Tuesday that he would veto such a move. In that case, a two-thirds majority in each house would be needed to override the President’s veto. This could set up a showdown between pro-sanction Democrats in Congress and the White House. Twelve Senate Democrats have in the past cosponsored sanctions legislation against Iran, and if these senators team up with the senate’s 54 Republicans, they can form the block they would need to override the president’s veto. Notable among the Democrats who are likely to break from the President on Iran are Menendez and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who expressed reservations throughout the negotiation process.
Republican members of congress are eager to scuttle the deal (which is curious given that a plurality of Republican voters support it). Some congressional Democrats could also add to the president’s headaches. The White House and proponents of the deal fear that if the majority of congress disapproves of a deal, real damage could be done to diplomacy. They would be right. The agreement will be a tough sell to the general public if it only survives via a veto by the narrowest of margins. With an election coming up, and the GOP candidates all vowing to reverse Obama’s approach to Iran, we could see the collapse of years of hard work towards diplomacy.
The opponents of a deal are up against more of a challenge than they might realize. Though they may be well-funded, they are unlikely to achieve their goal of undermining the deal. In May, 150 House Democrats signed onto a letter expressing support for negotiations. 145 of those are voting members, meaning that if they all vote against a disapproval of the deal, a veto will be sustained. The White House is already hard at work in making sure that happens. In an effort to win over House Democrats, Joe Biden will brief them on the positives of the deal today. The White House will also hold extensive briefings for lawmakers. Already, a grassroots coalition of anti-war and progressive groups is building, and will be instrumental in building the critical mass that is necessary to give members of Congress an earful about why they should support diplomacy. The hard work in Vienna brought us within reach of a lasting and peaceful solution to one of the most important international issues of our time. Now is the time to win the day for diplomacy in Congress.