As the Clock Ticks Down on Agreement with Iran, Will Obama Listen to Congress?
American negotiators and their partners are in Switzerland, attempting to hammer out a deal to put limitations on Iran’s nuclear program. The U.S. is looking for an agreement that will prevent Iran from pursuing development of a nuclear bomb, and the Iranians want an agreement that will remove international sanctions with as few limitations as possible. Although the framework has been hammered out, negotiating over details will last until June. Meanwhile, President Obama is under increasing pressure from a worried Congress.
Skepticism is high from Israel, to lawmakers, to the American people. Iranian politics are opaque, and it is difficult to know the real agenda of the Iranian leaders, or which faction in Tehran will actually prevail. Publicly, even while negotiating, Iran continues to paint America as “The Great Satan.”
The Obama administration is expected to use the momentum from any agreement to help sell it to a skeptical Congress and U.S. voters. But while many members of the national security establishment are likely to line up behind a deal, opponents have been bolstered by leaked details of a possible agreement that indicate it may not be enforceable.
Though 49 percent of Americans support the talks, 63 percent doubt that Iran is serious about addressing international concerns over its nuclear program, according to a new Pew poll released Monday.
Most also want Congress to approve any deal — an outcome that has become more likely in recent weeks despite President Obama’s determination to veto legislation requiring him to submit one to lawmakers.
On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf pushed back against concerns that U.S. negotiators were making so many concessions that international inspectors would not be able to verify whether Iran was developing a nuclear weapon.
“We aren’t going to rush to accept a bad deal,” she said. “And so if we can’t get a good deal, we won’t take one, pure and simple. I think we’ve all been clear about that.”
But Iranian officials struck a more triumphant tone as the negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, moved toward the deadline. An informed source close to Iran’s negotiating team told Iranian state media that they are sticking to their “principled stance” in the talks and that “Western hype about this issue is baseless.”
Representatives of the P5+1 group, which consists of the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, have identified three issues still to be resolved. These are limitations on Iran’s nuclear research and development, the timetable for lifting international sanctions on Iran, and potential consequences should Iran fail to comply with the eventual agreements.
Another roadblock may have been thrown up last week when Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, told Iranian reporters his country was opposed to the idea of sending its enriched uranium out of the country. This had been a key element of the plan to ensure Iran would always be at least a year away from development of a nuclear weapon.
Republicans in Congress have made it clear they want to exercise approval before a deal is finalized, and Democratic support for that idea is also growing. A recent poll shows 62 percent of Americans also believe Congress should have final authority.
As pressure grows on negotiators to reach an agreement, the pressure is also on President Obama to accept Congressional partnership in designing American’s ongoing relationship with Iran.