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Senate committee to vote on controversial Iran bill

In challenge to Obama, Senate panel to vote on bill giving Congress say in Iran nuclear pact

Senate committee to vote on controversial Iran bill

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a direct challenge to the White House, a Senate committee is to vote on a bill that would give Congress a chance to weigh in on any final nuclear agreement that can be reached with Iran.

Despite a veto threat from President Barack Obama, there is strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for Congress to have a say in any deal that the U.S. and five other nations are able to negotiate to keep Iran from being able to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for easing sanctions crippling the economy of the influential nation in the Middle East.

The White House doesn't want Congress to take any action that could upset the delicate negotiations that are supposed to wrap up with a final agreement by the end of June.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said a vote is likely on Tuesday, possibly on a new version still being crafted Monday night.

"There have been some tweaks," said Corker. "I'm hopeful that we're going to be successful."

A new version would be an attempt to make the bill more palatable to lawmakers who have sought changes, such as shortening from 60 days to 30 days the length of time that Congress would have to review any final deal that's reached.

"Now that we've got the broad outlines of the framework and we're getting more thorough briefings from the White House, we should be able to review and provide input on the bill responsibly in 30 days or less," said Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, a member of the committee.

Asked whether a new version could win a veto-proof two-thirds majority in the full Senate, Corker was cautiously optimistic. "We are moving in a very positive direction, and we've worked through some issues that I think give me a lot of hope that that could well be the case," he said.

Corker, who introduced the bill with Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, also said he was optimistic that there could be a full Senate vote on the bill, instead of delaying a vote until after the deadline for the agreement at the end of June.

On the House side, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Monday he will bring the bill to the floor if the Senate acts on legislation giving Congress the power to review any deal.

As the bill is currently written, Obama could unilaterally lift or ease any sanctions that were imposed on Iran through presidential executive means. But the bill would prohibit him for 60 days from suspending, waiving or otherwise easing any sanctions that Congress levied on Iran. During that 60-day period, Congress could hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on any final nuclear agreement with Iran.

If Congress passed a joint resolution approving a final deal -- or took no action -- Obama could move ahead to ease sanctions levied by Congress. But if Congress passed a joint resolution disapproving it, Obama would be blocked from providing Iran with any relief from congressional sanctions.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who played a leading role in getting a framework agreement with Iran this past month, personally pleaded with House Republicans and Democrats on Monday to give the Obama administration more time and room to negotiate a final deal. Kerry met in a closed-door session with members of the House and was to meet with senators on Tuesday before the committee debates the bill.

"We have two and a half months more to negotiate, that's a serious amount of time with some serious business left to do," Kerry told reporters outside a congressional auditorium where the briefing was held. "We hope Congress listens carefully and asks the questions that it wants. But also give us the space and the time to be able to complete a very difficult task which has high stakes for our country."

After the private briefing with members of the House, Democratic Rep. Steve Israel said he was not convinced the framework deal Kerry described is as good as it needs to be. "I was skeptical before. I remain skeptical," he said.

At the White House, Obama met for several hours with two groups of Jewish leaders in another part of the campaign to win support for a deal. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is intensely skeptical that international negotiators can reach a verifiable deal with Iran, which he says has threatened to destroy Israel, some American Jewish groups have backed the international negotiations.


Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Josh Lederman and Erica Werner contributed to this report.

Updated : 2021-09-27 15:29 GMT+08:00