President Obama did so despite strong opposition from Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and many other prominent members of Congress who argued that such a move violated the intent of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which Obama signed into law, and argued that Congress should vote on the deal before the U.N.
Last week, several reports indicated that the administration would seek to use the Security Council resolution to pressure individual members of Congress to support the Iran deal because, as Secretary John Kerry stated, “If Congress were to veto the deal, Congress—the United States of America—would be in noncompliance with this agreement and contrary to all of the other countries in the world.” Congress should dismiss this pressure for several important reasons:
1. Congress still has a say over whether U.S. sanctions remain enforced.
Congress made it clear from the outset in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act that it demanded the right to review the agreement prior to implementation. The Act would prohibit the president from waiving Iranian sanctions regardless of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Congress may be acting inconsistently with Resolution 2231, but Obama would be acting inconsistently with U.S. law if he tried to waive sanctions over the objection of two-thirds of Congress.
2. UN Security Council Resolution 2231 does not require the U.S. is to remove its sanctions.
The resolution has a number of binding provisions, but as explained by former State Department Legal Advisor John Bellinger, paragraph 2 merely “calls upon” member states to “take such actions as may be appropriate to support implementation of the JCPOA, including by taking actions commensurate with the implementation plan set out in the JCPOA” and to refrain “from actions that undermine implementation of commitments under the JCPOA.” In other words, the relevant paragraph does not include references (such as acting under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, adopting a decision along with a reference to Articles 39 or 41, otherwise identifying a situation as a threat to peace, a breach of the peace, or act of aggression) historically associated with a binding instruction to member states under the U.N. Charter.
3. The JCPOA remains a terrible deal that dismantles sanctions but not Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
The agreement in effect legitimizes Iran as a nuclear threshold state. Although the administration promised that the negotiations would cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, the agreement amounts to little more than a diplomatic speed bump that will delay, but not permanently halt, Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.
Once key restrictions on uranium enrichment expire in 10 to 15 years, Iran will have the option to develop an industrial scale enrichment program that will make it easier for it to sprint across that threshold. Other Arab states and Turkey are likely to tee up their own nuclear programs as a prudent counterweight to offset to Iran’s expanding nuclear potential, after some of the restrictions on its uranium enrichment program automatically sunset.
The Saudis already have demanded the same concessions on uranium enrichment that Iran got and have entered into negotiations to buy French nuclear reactors, which could become the foundation for a future nuclear weapons program. The end result would encourage nuclear proliferation, rather than discouraging it. And it would strengthen Iran’s power and influence at the expense of U.S. allies, straining ties between Washington and Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.
4. Iran will benefit from a financial windfall that will be used to support terrorism.
Iran has for nearly four decades actively supported, armed, and financed terrorist groups that have expressed the deepest hostility toward the U.S. and Israel and continue to plan and engage in terrorist acts against them.
It is implausible that none of the more than $100 billion in frozen assets scheduled for release under the JCPOA will go to support groups that Iran has and continues to support.
However, even if the U.S. and the U.N. can somehow prevent the frozen assets from being used in this manner, money is fungible and the receipt of those funds will allow other resources to be redirected to this purpose. The bottom line is that Iran sees terrorist groups as a valuable asymmetric force multiplier to its foreign policy and security objectives and will continue to support them. The JCPOA will provide them with greater resources to dedicate toward that goal.
5. No deal remains better than a bad deal.
The administration repeatedly insisted that it preferred no deal to a bad deal which is obviously inconsistent with Obama’s false choice presented in his news conference last week that the alternative to this deal is war.
The alternative it to maintain U.S. and U.N. sanctions, ratchet them up where possible, and wait for the economic pressure to force Iran to accept a better deal. The original sanctions forced Iran to the negotiating table in the first place; the administration’s ineptness and desperation for any deal squandered that opportunity. Congress should reset the board and allow the next administration an opportunity to succeed where this administration failed.
Congress is right to be outraged by the administration’s dismissal of their desire to vote on the deal before the U.N. Security Council.
Aside from the administration’s violation of its commitment to Congress, returning to the status quo ante becomes more complicated if Congress opposes the deal.
Indeed, it is possible that the deal might survive despite the U.S. maintaining sanctions if Iran concluded that the removal of U.N. and European Union sanctions – and the release of more than $100 billion in frozen assets – was sufficient to comply with the agreement in the short-term.
Unfortunately, Congress can’t force the administration to scrap the deal. But at least it can ensure that U.S. sanctions would remain in place and Congress would have done what it could to impede Obama’s facilitation of Iran’s aspirations of being a regional hegemon and a nuclear power.