Talk these days centers around President Biden’s intention to negotiate our return to a nuclear deal designed to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations. It will be recalled that President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of 2015, or JCPOA, claiming its inspection regime was toothless and could not prevent Iranian cheating.
Furthermore, its 15-year expiration date meant that after 2030 Iran could legally pursue nuclear weapons. He also maintained that Iran’s long-rage missile program and sponsorship of international terror was totally unaddressed.
While Iran has also expressed interest in America rejoining the deal, it wants the American sanctions lifted as a condition for it to come to the table. For his part, Biden, at least some of the time, seems to be saying that Iran must make the first move for a reconsideration of sanctions to even be discussed. But at other times, he hints that he might be open to importuning by the European Union, who urge that some inducements for Iran are in order.
We have seen this movie before and should not again let ourselves be bamboozled. The ill-considered provisions of JCPOA were largely included because President Obama, through deft parliamentary legerdemain that turned the American treaty-making power on its head, was able to act essentially alone to the exclusion of the Senate. That cannot be allowed to happen again.
Surely, ensuring that a notorious predator nation like Iran will not be able to build nuclear weapons is a core American security interest and would ordinarily be thought of as the stuff of the rigorous “advise and consent” power of the United States Senate rather than some inchoate, ad hoc deal-making process.
Yet, Obama was able to get a watered-down JCPOA reflecting his belief that Iran was the wave of the future in the Gulf and had to be accommodated. So he opted to market the Iran agreement not as an irrevocable treaty but as a political commitment, thereby avoiding triggering the advise and consent power of the Senate.
The U.S. State Department began touting a-still-to-be-negotiated nuclear agreement with Iran, not as a legally binding treaty requiring 2/3 Senate approval, but as a mere non-legally binding political commitment. Thereupon, Obama attempted to placate Congress with a proposed deal that called for him to sign the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which ultimately was passed by the Senate in a 98-1 vote and in the House by a vote of 400-25 and which appeared to call for a significant Congressional role.
That act provided that once a nuclear agreement was negotiated with Iran, Congress would have 60 days in which it could pass a resolution of approval or disapproval; or Congress could do nothing, in which event JCPOA would be deemed approved. The law also included additional time beyond the 60 days for the president to veto a resolution and for Congress to take a vote on whether to override or sustain the veto.
Ultimately, because of this act, JCPOA could only be defeated with two-thirds override votes. In other words, despite a treaty needing a 2/3 favorable vote in the Senate to be deemed adopted, Obama was to get his way with JCPOA if 2/3 of the Congress didn’t override his veto of congressional disapproval resolutions! Talk about turning things on their heads.
And that is indeed what happened and JCPOA was upon us, warts and all.
We must not forget this history. Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr (R-Ky.) has introduced legislation, entitled the “Iran Nuclear Deal Advise and Consent Act of 2021,” that effectively requires Biden to get Senate approval for any new nuclear agreement with Iran. In pertinent part, it says:
No federal funds may be obligated or expended in furtherance of rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action…. unless the Biden Administration submits in writing to the House of Representatives and the Senate its commitment to submitting any JCPOA successor agreement to the Senate for advise as consent as a treaty rather than as an international agreement.
It looks like Biden may not be able to get the same bargain to work his will as did his former boss. It is to be profoundly hoped that he will not be looking for one.