Congress should review Iran pact

In this Nov. 6, 2014 file photo, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. speaks in Columbia, Tenn. Democratic senators are intent on changing a bill that would give Congress a say in an emerging nuclear deal with Iran, tweaks that could make it more palatable to President Barack Obama, who called Corker and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., on April 8, to lobby against undermining diplomatic efforts to end a standoff with Tehran.(AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is very up-to-date. Like Pope Francis, he tweets. On Thursday, referring to the “framework” on Iran’s nuclear program agreed to last week, he tweeted, “I’m really worried as the other side is into lying & breaching promises; an example was White House fact sheet [on the nuclear negotiations].... Most of it was contrary to what was agreed. They always deceive & breach promises.”

Furthermore, he tweeted, “All sanctions should be removed just when the deal is reached,” and “No unconventional inspection that’d place Iran under special monitoring is acceptable. Foreign monitoring on Iran’s security isn’t allowed.”

So Iran’s leader says the White House lies about what was agreed. He is also drawing new red lines requiring the immediate lifting of sanctions if a deal is reached — President Obama says that will not happen for several years — and barring the kind of international inspection required to assure the world that Iran isn’t secretly cheating.

All the more reason for Congress to take a careful look at the emerging agreement and set its conditions for a viable pact. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rightly intends to bring forward bipartisan legislation next week to require President Obama to send the pending Iran nuclear accord to Congress for approval. Getting a veto-proof majority for the bill will be a close thing.

But U.S. sanctions cannot be permanently lifted without a vote by Congress.

And a refusal by Iran to accept a carefully designed verification process with access to military installations ought to be a deal breaker because it would leave the world uncertain about Iran’s compliance.

President Obama made it clear in an interview with The New York Times last weekend that he wants to avoid the risk that Congress will reject the agreement. But he should submit it anyway. By cooperating, the president stands a better chance of getting congressional approval for his deal, which is, at this stage, supported by a reported 59 percent of voters.

The president’s supporters argue that such a strong degree of public backing means Mr. Obama can skip congressional approval. But an even stronger majority believes, by 62 to 29 percent, that Congress should have a voice in the agreement, according to a recent poll by Pew Research Center.

The proposed accord presents practical and constitutional questions about which Congress should have a voice.

Mr. Obama and his supporters call it an executive agreement well within the powers of the presidency. A congressional vote of approval or disapproval, Mr. Obama said in his New York Times interview, would “encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives.”

The White House says congressional action will only be needed in future years, and then only if the accord is successful. But Ayatollah Khamenei says that is unacceptable. So one of them is going to have to yield.

Congress may have to vote on the accord this year to make it effective, changing its status from an executive-only agreement to one that requires immediate congressional ratification. Also Congress could help put Iran on notice that cheating will result in more severe sanctions.

Meanwhile, the accord would commit the United States to permit Iran to continue to enrich uranium. If Iran is allowed a “right” to do so, other nations could follow suit, possibly leading to a rapid spread of nuclear weapons capabilities around the world. Congress should ask how the administration plans to deal with this new risk.

Mr. Obama says he had to face the fact that Iran would not give up nuclear enrichment, that he had to make the best of the situation. If he can persuade the nation, through congressional hearings, that he has succeeded, the support of Congress will be assured. If not, he should have the courage to walk away from an ambiguous and potentially dangerous deal.