For the second time, Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a vote to move forward on a resolution rejecting the Iran nuclear deal, protecting President Barack Obama’s key foreign policy initiative.
The measure failed Tuesday to gain the 60 votes needed to advance — just as it did last Thursday. The vote was 56 to 42.
Though the measure is unlikely to advance, Republicans staged the Senate vote to make political points against Democrats and in future Senate races. They point to polls showing Americans have reservations about the deal.
The second vote was not the final word in the Senate. Frustrated with the outcome, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set up a third vote Thursday on a measure that would bar Obama from lifting sanctions on Iran unless Tehran recognized Israel as a state and released U.S. prisoners held in Iran.
“Either way this debate will continue,” the Republican leader said.
Despite McConnell’s maneuver on a politically fraught measure certain to show up in campaign ads and fundraising appeals, Democrats were expected to again hold together and block the bill.
As debate resumed Tuesday, McConnell accused Democratic senators of refusing to let the Senate vote on the deal.
“A strong, bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives voted to reject the deal. A strong, bipartisan majority of the Senate would vote to reject the deal too,” McConnell said. “If only Democrat senators would stop blocking the American people from even having a final vote on one of the most consequential foreign policy issues of our age.”
Making his case for a vote, McConnell quoted Obama as saying, “I believe Congress owes the American people a final up or down vote.”
Other Republicans who spoke out against the deal said even Democrats have publicly noted the drawbacks to the deal. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, displayed black-and-white placards printed with quotes from pro-deal Democrats who have expressed reservations about the agreement.
However, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Tuesday’s vote — and the possibility of another one later in the week — was an exercise in futility.
“We had this vote last week,” Durbin said. “I don’t know why we’re doing a replay of this.”
Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., maintain the issue is settled, especially with the congressional review period expiring Thursday. He called the votes a “charade.”
The international accord backed by the United States, Iran and five world powers would curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling sanctions that have undercut Tehran’s economy.
The accord got a boost as the Vatican, just ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Washington next week, welcomed the agreement. Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s secretary for relations with states, said in Vienna on Monday that the Vatican backs the agreement because it thinks the best way to resolve disputes is through dialogue and negotiation.
Gallagher said the Vatican hopes full implementation of the accord “will ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program” and “will be a definitive step toward greater stability and security in the region.”
Senate Republicans will try a second time on Tuesday to move ahead on a resolution rejecting the Iran nuclear deal, and the outcome is expected to be the same: Democrats are poised to block the measure and preserve President Barack Obama’s foreign policy win.
Last week, Senate Democrats blocked GOP attempts to get a disapproval resolution to Obama’s desk and House Republicans settled for passing two related measures that are never expected to get out of Congress.
The international accord backed by the United States, Iran and five world powers would curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling sanctions that have undercut Tehran’s economy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has scheduled another vote Tuesday to end debate, but that motion is likely to be blocked by Senate Democrats as well. It’s unclear if this is the last vote the Republican-led Senate will take on the Iran nuclear deal.
Republicans now are working to craft new sanctions legislation to maintain a hardline stance against Iran. Looking ahead to next year’s elections, Republican campaign committees also have targeted Democrats who backed the deal and some organizations against the deal already have threatened to withdraw political contributions from members of Congress who backed it.
The National Republican Congressional Committee issued several statements on Monday criticizing individual Democrats who were in favor of the deal, including those in Connecticut, Florida and New York. Katie Martin, communications director for the committee, described the agreement as a “dangerous deal with Iran” that will put U.S. national security and the safety of U.S. troops and allies at risk.
Senate Democrats voted to uphold the hard-fought nuclear accord with Iran on Thursday, overcoming ferocious GOP opposition and delivering President Barack Obama a legacy-making victory on his top foreign policy priority.
A disapproval resolution for the agreement fell two votes short of the 60 needed to move forward as most Democratic and independent senators banded together against it. Although House Republicans continued to pursue eleventh-hour strategies to derail the international accord and Senate Republicans promised a re-vote, Thursday’s outcome all but guaranteed that the disapproval legislation would not reach Obama’s desk.
As a result the nuclear deal will move forward unchecked by Congress, an improbable win by Obama in the face of unanimous opposition from Republicans who control Capitol Hill, GOP candidates seeking to replace him in the Oval Office and the state of Israel and its allied lobbyists in the U.S.
Beginning next week, Obama will be free to start scaling back U.S. sanctions to implement the agreement negotiated by Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers. The accord aims to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions.
“This vote is a victory for diplomacy, for American national security and for the safety and security of the world,” the president said in a statement. “Going forward, we will turn to the critical work of implementing and verifying this deal so that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon.”
Frustrated Republicans railed against Democrats for using a procedural vote to block final passage of the disapproval resolution, and issued grim warnings about a deal they contend could serve only to enrich Tehran and leave it closer to building a bomb when constraints begin to ease in 10 or 15 years. They promised that Thursday’s vote would not be the Senate’s last word, and moments after it was over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set the stage for another next week.
“No amount of saying this issue is over makes it over,” McConnell declared, adding that if a Republican wins the White House next year, “I say to Iranian observers of the debate, (the deal) will be looked on anew.”
But Democrats led by Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada promised that any further votes would have the same outcome “and are just simply a waste of time.”
“People around the world should know today’s outcome was clear, decisive and final,” Reid said.
In the House, Republicans had not given up on blocking the deal against all odds. After backtracking on plans to vote on the disapproval resolution when it began to look short of support in the Senate, House Republicans lined up votes on several related measures.
Late Thursday they agreed on a party-line 245-186 vote to a measure specifying that Obama had not properly submitted all documents related to the accord for Congress’ review, and therefore a 60-day review clock had not really started.
That will be followed Friday by votes on a bill to approve the accord — which is doomed to fail, but Republicans want to force Democrats to go on record in favor of the agreement — and on a measure preventing Obama from lifting congressionally mandated sanctions on Iran.
“This debate is far from over, and frankly, it’s just beginning,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “This is a bad deal with decades-long consequences for the security of the American people and our allies. And we’ll use every tool at our disposal to stop, slow, and delay this agreement.”
Underscoring the fierce politics, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out press releases within moments of the Senate vote criticizing Democratic senators for their votes.
Some House Republicans, buoyed by a favorable ruling this week in a lawsuit they filed over Obama’s health care law, have begun suggesting a lawsuit to stop the accord. Boehner called that “an option that is very possible.”
Yet the House Republican maneuvers seemed to have little chance of bearing results, and White House officials sarcastically branded them the “Tortilla Coast Gambit,” a reference to a Capitol Hill restaurant where tea party lawmakers plan their moves. Even before the Senate voted, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was boasting of the administration’s success.
“Look, if we were sitting here just a month ago, back in mid-August, talking about how things would be resolved in Congress … and I told you that neither house of Congress would pass a resolution of disapproval for this agreement, you’d be shocked,” Earnest said. “That’s an indication of the kind of progress that we’ve made.”
In fact, opponents never had much chance of blocking the deal on Capitol Hill, partly because of a complicated congressional review process that gave unusual power to Democratic minorities in the House and Senate who could secure a win for Obama simply by upholding his veto of a disapproval resolution. Yet it was widely expected in the days after the nuclear deal was signed July 14 that Obama would have to use his veto pen.
Despite poll numbers showing significant public concern about the agreement, opposition never seemed to catch fire among Democrats or voters over the summer. In the end, instead of registering unified opposition to the deal, congressional Republicans turned the debate into the latest occasion for infighting within the party and between the House and Senate.
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Nancy Benac, Alan Fram and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
Conservative House Republicans have embarked on an eleventh-hour political maneuver to derail the Iranian nuclear deal, saying they can’t vote on it until the president coughs up copies of side deals Tehran negotiated with atomic inspectors.
The last-ditch effort to snarl implementation of the deal was part of a political spectacle that unfolded on Wednesday in Washington over one of President Barack Obama’s key foreign policy initiatives.
Inside the Capitol, congressional Republicans turned on each other angrily as they moved closer to a vote on the deal, which gives Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for restraints to keep it from becoming a nuclear-armed state.
Outside on the lawn, GOP presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Donald Trump whipped up several thousand demonstrators with remarks harshly criticizing the deal. “Never ever, ever in my life have I seen a deal so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran,” Trump bellowed on the hot, humid afternoon.
The maneuvering and speechifying did little to change the reality: Barring unlikely success of the House Republicans’ strategy, the international accord will move ahead. Even if Congress succeeds in passing legislation aimed at undermining the deal, Obama would veto it and Democrats command enough votes to sustain the veto.
Under legislation that Obama signed into law, Congress has 60 days, or until Sept. 17, to vote to approve or disapprove of the deal, or take no action. The congressional review law required Obama to give lawmakers copies of all documents relevant to the deal.
Republican Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois and other House Republicans are now claiming that the 60-day clock never started ticking because Obama never sent Congress the texts of two separate agreements the International Atomic Energy Agency negotiated with Tehran.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, who met last month with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he has a legal obligation to keep the documents confidential.
Responding to resistance from conservative Republicans, House GOP leaders canceled the start of debate on a resolution to disapprove of the deal and hastily called a meeting to discuss how to move forward.
What emerged was a Plan B involving votes on several related measures: one to specify that the Obama administration had not properly submitted all the documents pertaining to the accord to Congress; a second, bound-to-fail vote to approve the deal; and a third to prevent Obama from lifting congressionally mandated sanctions on Iran. Debate and votes were to begin Thursday.
“It is a scandal that the administration has not disclosed this information,” Roskam told reporters after emerging from the strategy meeting in the basement of the Capitol.
Roskam said he thinks it’s a very bad deal and has to “use every conceivable tool” to stop it. Asked why he didn’t make his argument earlier, he said: “I didn’t think about it. … As we began to move forward, it just became clearer and clear and clearer. … This was the first opportunity.”
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., insisted that the clock had not started.
“I think the president has broken the law — that is he hasn’t compiled with his obligations” under the legislation allowing Congress to review the deal. He added that if Obama lifts sanctions against Iran without explicit congressional approval, “the American people will be furious and properly so because they will have a president who is brazenly violating the law with knowledge and intent.”
Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York issued a statement late Wednesday accusing the “dissident wing of the majority’s party” of emerging from a neighborhood bar, Tortilla Coast, on Tuesday night with a “perversion of our legislative process.”
“We are yet again thrown into chaos by a majority chasing its tail in a last-minute meeting, throwing together three bills that might as well be scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin,” she said, lamenting that the maneuver trivialized Congress. “Meanwhile, the Senate has declared that they are not changing course, and in the end, we will be left with nothing.”
All the maneuvering by opponents of the deal apparently did so without an assist from the powerful pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, which had hundreds of its members arm-twisting lawmakers on Wednesday. An official with the group said its preference was for a straight vote on the disapproval resolution — something Senate Democrats are trying to block with a filibuster.
The fate of that effort remained uncertain. In the Senate, debate did begin on the resolution, with some describing the vote, which could occur yet this week, as among the most consequential in their lifetimes.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged his colleagues in the House to express their concerns about the side agreements by voting to disapprove of the deal. He said he believes that the president and the United Nations will conclude that the 60-day clock ends Sept. 17 and sanctions will start being eased.
Even if Congress received the separate agreements between Tehran and the IAEA, “I don’t think that would change our view of whether allowing Iran to industrialize their nuclear program is a bad deal,” said Corker, who gave a lengthy floor speech against the deal late Wednesday.
Associated Press writers Stephen Ohlemacher, Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
The Iran nuclear deal is taking center stage in the presidential campaign as the agreement gains steam on Capitol Hill and lawmakers prepare for what could be the most consequential foreign policy vote of their careers.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton plans a speech Wednesday in Washington to support the deal. Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and other conservatives, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, are headlining an anti-deal rally on the lawn of the Capitol.
The House, returning from summer recess, is expected to vote on a resolution of disapproval this week. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who is working hard to bolster support for the deal, has invited ambassadors from the other five nations in the agreement to talk Wednesday with House Democrats. They also are expected to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry, a lead negotiator of the accord.
Joined by military veterans, several dozen House Democrats gathered Tuesday evening on the steps of the Capitol to show their support for the deal with Iran. Sounding a familiar theme, they said the agreement is about verification, not trust.
“Tonight we stand, members of Congress, on the steps of the Capitol, as members totally committed to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran,” Pelosi said.
It’s unclear exactly what’s going to happen in the Senate. As of Tuesday, 42 Democratic and independent senators had announced support of the deal — one more vote than needed to block passage of a resolution of disapproval and hand President Barack Obama a major foreign policy victory.
What remains unclear is whether all 42 would vote to filibuster and thus prevent the resolution of disapproval from reaching the Senate floor altogether.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an author of the legislation to allow Congress to review the deal, is adamant that the Senate vote on the merits of the deal.
“With 98 senators on the record voting in support of the legislation, I am very disappointed that some members on the other side of the aisle are reversing their positions and now are threatening to filibuster to keep the Senate from voting on this consequential agreement with Iran,” Corker said.
Although the wheels of Congress are turning in favor of the president, those opposed are launching an all-out push against the deal. Several hundred members of a pro-Israel lobby are to be at the Capitol to urge lawmakers to reject the deal with Iran, which has threatened to destroy the Jewish state.
The agreement struck by Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers in July will provide Iran hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions in exchange for a decade of constraints on its nuclear program.
Overcoming ferocious opposition, President Barack Obama secured a legacy-defining foreign policy victory Wednesday as Senate Democrats clinched the necessary votes to ensure the Iran nuclear agreement survives in Congress.
The decisive 34th commitment came from Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring next year after three decades in the Senate. In a statement she said “no deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime.” But she called the pact “the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb.”
Supporters now have the votes in hand to uphold Obama’s veto, if one becomes necessary, of a resolution of disapproval Republicans are trying to pass this month. GOP lawmakers who control the House and Senate ardently oppose the agreement, which curbs Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., grudgingly acknowledged that his side would not be able to block the deal after Obama, in his words, secured “the tepid, restricted and partisan support of one-third of one house of Congress.” McConnell spared the accord no criticism, saying it leaves Iran “with a threshold nuclear capability.”
Israel also has railed against the deal, arguing that its conditions would keep Iran perilously close to developing nuclear weapons while enriching a government that has funded anti-U.S. and anti-Israel militants throughout the Middle East. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had personally lobbied U.S. lawmakers to block the pact, will continue fighting the agreement, an Israeli official said, while a spokesman for the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC said his group also would seek to build further opposition.
In Philadelphia, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the deal. “Rejecting this agreement would not be sending a signal of resolve to Iran, it would be broadcasting a message so puzzling that most people across the globe would find it impossible to comprehend,” he told lawmakers and civic leaders at the National Constitution Center. His speech was carried live on Iranian television, an unusual occurrence
White House press secretary Josh Earnest called the growing support a validation of Obama’s effort to “make sure that every member of the Senate understands exactly what’s included in the agreement.” The deal sets Iran back so that it is at least a year away from being able to produce enough nuclear material for a weapon, before the restrictions ease after a decade.
For all the geopolitical ramifications, the debate in the U.S. has often seemed more about domestic partisan politics over a resolution that, on its own, wouldn’t be able to reverse a multi-country agreement already blessed by the United Nations. A vote of disapproval, however, could signal Congress’ readiness to introduce new sanctions at the risk of causing Tehran — and other governments — to abandon the accord and blame the U.S. for the failure.
Among American lawmakers, the debate has broken along party lines. Republicans, defending their congressional majorities and aiming for the White House in next year’s elections, have denounced the deal in apocalyptic terms. The bulk of Democrats have rushed to the president’s defense.
Next week, Donald Trump and fellow presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz will rally outside the Capitol against the agreement, as lawmakers return from a five-week recess to begin debating it. Several GOP presidential hopefuls issued statements Wednesday vowing to undo the agreement if they are elected. “When I’m president of the United States, we will re-impose those sanctions on day one,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said.
In the House, the disapproval resolution is certain to pass by a wide margin when it comes to a vote next week. But in a letter to fellow Democrats Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she has the votes to back up an Obama veto.
Supporters of the deal are seeking a bigger victory in the Senate. If they can assemble 41 votes in favor, they’d be able to block the disapproval resolution from passing at all, sparing Obama the embarrassment of having to veto it. They need seven of the remaining 10 undeclared Democrats to back the agreement, though several in this group could still come out in opposition.
Either way, Obama has succeeded in selling a package that prompted immediate and intense opposition from Republicans in the days after it was concluded on July 14 by Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Millions were spent lobbying against the pact. Polls registered significant public distrust.
But none of the skepticism translated into enough Democratic opposition to threaten the deal, partly resulting from the upside-down voting process involved.
Because the Obama administration didn’t consider it a treaty, ratification wasn’t dependent on two-thirds approval in the Senate. Instead, Republicans and Democrats agreed on a process that essentially allowed the pact to stand if it gained the support of just one-third of lawmakers in either chamber, since two-thirds majorities in both would be needed to override a veto of the disapproval resolution.
Only two Senate Democrats, Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, have announced their opposition so far.
Lee reported from Philadelphia. Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Josh Lederman from Air Force One contributed to this story.
To President Barack Obama, the historic nuclear accord with Iran is a validation of an arduous, politically fraught diplomatic gamble, one he foreshadowed before winning the White House and one that will shape his legacy long after he leaves.
The deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program may prevent Tehran from developing a bomb or being the target of U.S. military action during Obama’s presidency. But whether the agreement succeeds in stemming Iran’s nuclear ambitions after his tenure is a far murkier question.
The sheer amount of time and political capital Obama invested in the Iran talks has fueled speculation that he had too much at stake to walk away from the negotiating table, no matter the compromises in a final deal. Obama authorized secret talks with Iran in 2012, followed by nearly two years of formal negotiations alongside Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. His rapprochement with Iran sent U.S. relations with Israel plummeting to near-historic lows and deepened tensions with Congress.
Even with the high-stakes implications of an Iranian nuclear program, the talks over time seemed to represent more than just the quest for a deal. They were a referendum on Obama’s belief that even America’s most ardent enemies can be brought in line by wielding diplomacy and economic pressure instead of military might.
“It represents the core of who he is and what his presidency stands for,” said Julianne Smith, a former Obama White House and Pentagon official. “He needs it to validate that approach.”
With the deal now in hand, one of Obama’s top priorities is selling its virtues to skeptical lawmakers and world leaders, as well as the American public. He spent much of Tuesday calling leaders in Europe and the Middle East. On Wednesday, he planned to discuss the deal in a news conference, while dispatching Vice President Joe Biden to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats.
Senior U.S. officials say Obama is sensitive to the perception he was desperate for a deal. With big gaps remaining as a June 30 deadline neared for a final agreement, officials said the president urged his team to send clear messages to Iran both publicly and privately that the U.S. was ready to end the talks without a deal.
“He did not want people to have the impression that this is something we needed to have,” one official said, adding that Obama was frequently among the most pessimistic members of his national security team about the prospects of a deal.
Officials also pointed to a video conference Obama convened with Kerry and other negotiators last week as an example of his willingness to forgo a deal. With momentum for an agreement building in Vienna and a deadline to limit congressional oversight looming, officials said Obama essentially rejected the deal at hand because timetables for keeping restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and a U.N. arms embargo in place were insufficient.
Negotiators blew through the congressional deadline and were able to extend the timelines, according to the officials, who insisted on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the president’s thinking.
Obama first planted the seeds for engagement with Iran as a presidential candidate, saying in a 2007 Democratic primary debate that he would be willing to meet with Iranian leaders without preconditions. His statements were ridiculed by Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, who went on to be his secretary of state and help jumpstart the secret negotiations with Iran.
The president’s opening months in office included public and private overtures to Tehran, all with a more conciliatory tone aimed at signaling a shift from predecessor George W. Bush, who cast Iran as part of an “axis of evil.”
In a veiled reference to Iran in his inaugural address, Obama said he was willing to “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your first.” He exchanged letters with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He used conciliatory language in a videotaped message to both the people and government of Iran on the Persian new year, calling for engagement “that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”
Obama has taken a similar approach — clandestine diplomacy, prioritizing negotiations over military action — to other foreign policy challenges, with mixed results. Plans to negotiate an end to Syria’s bloody civil war have gone nowhere. A resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba after a half-century of hostilities is moving along largely as planned.
Yet the stakes and the scope of the Iran effort stand apart, a reality not lost on Obama. While he talked of American strength and long-sought change Tuesday, he acknowledged in an interview with The Atlantic earlier this year that if Iran does ultimately get a bomb, “it’s my name on this.”
Overcoming decades of hostility, Iran, the United States, and five other world powers struck a historic accord Tuesday to check Tehran’s nuclear efforts short of building a bomb. The agreement could give Iran access to billions in frozen assets and oil revenue, stave off more U.S. military action in the Middle East and reshape the tumultuous region.
The deal sets in motion a years-long test of Iran’s willingness to keep its promises to the world — and the ability of international inspectors to monitor compliance. It also sets the White House up for a contentious fight with a wary Congress and more rocky relations with Israel, whose leaders furiously opposed the agreement.
Appealing to skeptics, President Barack Obama declared that the accord “offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.”
Under terms of the deal, the culmination of 20 months of arduous diplomacy, Iran must dismantle much of its nuclear program in order to secure relief from biting sanctions that have battered its economy. International inspectors can now press for visits to Iran’s military facilities, though access is not guaranteed. Centrifuges will keep spinning, though in lesser quantities, and uranium can still be enriched, though at lower levels.
In a key compromise, Iran agreed to continuation of the U.N.’s arms embargo on the country for up to five more years and ballistic missile restrictions for up to eight years. Washington had sought to keep the arms ban in place, while Russia and China joined Iran in pushing for an immediate suspension.
On the streets of Tehran, Iranians honked their horns and celebrated in the city’s main square. President Hassan Rouhani said a “new chapter” had begun in his nation’s relations with the world, even as he denied Iran had ever pursued a nuclear weapon.
While the U.S. partnered in the talks with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, the decades of tensions between the U.S. and Iran put the two countries at the forefront of the negotiations. A U.N. Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks were private, said the United States will circulate a draft resolution at the council Wednesday to authorize the agreement.
Whether the nuclear rapprochement will spark a broader thaw is unclear. Nearly 40 years after Iran’s Islamic revolution and the hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the country’s hardliners remain hostile toward Washington. The U.S. and its allies also have deep concerns about Iran’s support for terrorism in the Middle East and its detention of several American citizens.
With key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program required for only a decade, opponents of the deal say it simply delays Tehran’s pursuit of the bomb. Critics also say Iran will use new wealth from sanctions relief to double-down other destabilizing activities in the region.
Iran stands to receive more than $100 billion in assets that have been frozen overseas and benefit from an end to various financial restrictions on Iranian banks. Iran could also sell more oil, bringing down crude prices.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lobbied unceasingly against a deal, called it a “stunning historic mistake” and warned that his country would not be bound by it. Netanyahu strongly hinted that Israeli military action to destroy Tehran’s nuclear program remains an option.
Obama and Netanyahu, who have long had a cool relationship, spoke by phone Tuesday. White House officials said Obama also called King Salman of Saudi Arabia, one of the many Sunni Arab rivals of Shiite Iran who have expressed concerns about the deal.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans accused Obama of making too many concessions. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said lawmakers “will fight a bad deal that is wrong for our national security and wrong for our country.” GOP presidential hopefuls also panned the deal, some vowing to scrap it if elected to succeed Obama.
Obama did get a crucial show of support from Hillary Rodham Clinton, his former secretary of state and the likely Democratic presidential nominee. She praised the deal as an important step toward “putting the lid on Iran’s nuclear program.”
Clinton’s support could give some Democratic lawmakers more confidence in standing with Obama as he tries to hold off congressional efforts to disrupt the deal. Congress has 60 days to review it and can try to prevent Obama from waiving sanctions on Iran as promised in the negotiations.
The president reiterated that he would veto any legislation aimed at upending the agreement. Defending it, he said, “No deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.”
The deal comes after years of international diplomacy that until recently were defined by failure. Breaks in the talks sometimes lasted for months, and Iran’s nascent nuclear program expanded into one that Western intelligence agencies saw as only months away from weapons capacity. The U.S. and Israel both threatened military action.
Obama took office in 2009 promising to keep the door open for greater engagement with Iran, even as he ratcheted up economic sanctions. In 2012, he authorized secret talks that helped lay the groundwork for the formal negotiations that stretched over the past two years.
The final weeks were marked by marathon meetings in Vienna, three blown deadlines and threats by top American and Iranian diplomats to walk away.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who did most of the bargaining with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said persistence paid off. “Believe me, had we been willing to settle for a lesser deal we would have finished this negotiation a long time ago,” he said. Kerry returned to Washington late Tuesday after his longest mission as the top U.S. diplomat.
The breakthrough came after several key compromises.
Iran agreed to a continuation of the arms embargo for up to five more years, though it could end earlier if the International Atomic Energy Agency clears Iran of any current work on nuclear weapons. A similar condition was put on U.N. restrictions on the transfer of ballistic missile technology to Tehran, which could last for up to eight more years, according to diplomats.
Washington had sought to maintain the ban on Iran importing and exporting weapons, concerned that an Islamic Republic flush with cash from sanctions relief would expand its military assistance for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and other forces opposing America’s Mideast allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Another significant agreement will allow U.N. inspectors to press for visits to Iranian military sites as part of their monitoring duties, something Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has opposed. However, access isn’t guaranteed and could be delayed, a condition that critics of the deal are sure to seize on.
Under the accord, Tehran would have the right to challenge U.N requests, and an arbitration board composed of Iran and the six world powers would then decide. The IAEA also wants to complete its long-stymied investigation of past weapons work by Iran, and the U.S. says Iranian cooperation is needed for all economic sanctions to be lifted.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Tuesday his agency and Iran had signed a “roadmap” to resolve outstanding concerns, hopefully by mid-December.
Julie Pace reported from Washington. AP writers Bradley Klapper, Josh Lederman, Darlene Superville and Connie Cass in Washington, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.
The nuclear accord with Iran required a difficult series of compromises for world powers and Tehran.
For President Barack Obama, it meant climbing down from demands that Tehran halt almost all of its enrichment of potential bomb-making material and shutter an underground facility possibly impervious to an air attack. It also meant dropping pledges to secure “anytime, anywhere” inspections and Iran’s complete answering of questions related to past weapons work.
But Iran’s supreme leader was forced to retreat on some key issues, too. Relief from crippling economic sanctions won’t come on Day 1, as he long clamored for, and his country will have to open up military sites to international inspectors at some point if the Islamic Republic is going to fulfill its commitments. Iran also will have to adhere to multiyear restrictions on enrichment and nuclear research and development that Ayatollah Khamenei and other leaders once opposed.
A look at how Iran and world powers found middle ground on some of the agreement’s most contentious elements:
Early in Obama’s presidency, U.S. officials began backtracking from the long-standing U.S. position that Iran must cease all enrichment of uranium, which can be used for peaceful purposes or transformed into the stuff of nuclear warheads. But Washington wasn’t ready to accept more than several hundred centrifuges spinning under tight controls.
The idea went nowhere with Khamenei or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s hardline president at the time. Even after the relative moderate Hassan Rouhani became president, Iranian officials still spoke about ramping up from some 20,000 centrifuges to some 190,000 of the machines.
Both sides compromised with a decade-long cap of 6,104 centrifuges, and a little more than 5,000 that can enrich uranium. The Americans said that level would leave Iran far enough away from bomb-making capacity; the Iranians emphasized that their infrastructure remained in place.
When Iran’s secret nuclear installation at Fordo came to light in 2009, the U.S. and its European allies demanded its closure. Not only was it hidden from the world community, the site was so deep underground it was potentially bombproof. Iran said it would never scale back efforts there.
The two sides found a solution earlier this year, making it a research institute while allowing the Iranians to continue developing their technological expertise. While Iran can continue running centrifuges at the facility, they have to use gases other than uranium for 15 years.
In a dispute that continued right up to the day of the deal, both Tehran and the West made inspections promises that proved tough to keep. Obama and his aides issued several pledges in recent months about securing the most stringent inspections regime in history, including the ability of U.N. nuclear agency monitors to visit sites wherever and whenever they choose.
Khamenei’s response was one of defiance. In fiery speeches to his nation, he insisted he would never open up Iranian military sites to inspectors or allow Iranian nuclear scientists to be interviewed.
The final deal falls in between. International Atomic Energy Agency experts can ask to see military installations of interest and Iran can make counterproposals. But if the experts accept no alternatives, an arbitration panel would decide what access is appropriate. And the U.S. and its European partners can get what they want as the majority of that panel’s membership.
PAST WEAPONS WORK
When world powers and Iran reached an interim nuclear pact in November 2013, the United States laid out its position concerning the IAEA’s long-stymied investigation of past Iranian atomic weapons work. The final agreement, it said in a statement, “would include resolution of questions concerning the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program.”
But instead of resolving the matter over the next 20 months, the nuclear agency struggled to get any answers from Tehran. The Iranians insisted that any evidence of wrongdoing was the fraudulent work of U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies.
Tuesday’s accord doesn’t solve the matter. It does create a process to do that, and IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said he has a “roadmap” to wrap up his probe by mid-December. The country has failed to meet previous demands for it to come clean, but the West hopes the promise of added sanctions relief will be the difference this time.
While the U.S. agreed to ease sanctions on Iran, it insisted that non-nuclear penalties would remain. Washington had a fight on its hands in the final days of the talks to maintain U.N. bans on Iran importing or exporting conventional weapons, and on Tehran’s purchases of ballistic missile technology.
The American fear: Iran, flush with cash from the nuclear deal, ramping up weapons programs to the great chagrin of Israel and Sunni Arab states, and expanding its military assistance to forces in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere that oppose the U.S. and its allies.
Iran pressed hard for the sanctions to be removed. And it divided the U.S. from some of its partners because Russia and China might benefit from increased arms sales to Tehran.
In the end, Iran accepted the arms embargo for five more years, or shorter if the IAEA certifies it is undertaking no illicit activity. For ballistic missile technology, the ban expires after no more than eight years.
Iran long sought the end of U.S. and international sanctions as soon as the deal came into force. But the United States wanted to postpone lifting the most significant restrictions until the later years of the deal.
The compromise: a phased approach that will allow Iran to collect more than $100 billion in assets frozen overseas early on, while allowing the U.S. to maintain the ability to reimpose sanctions years into the agreement.
After 18 days of intense and often fractious negotiation, world powers and Iran struck a landmark deal Tuesday to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions — an agreement designed to avert the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and another U.S. military intervention in the Muslim world.
The accord will keep Iran from producing enough material for a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years and impose new provisions for inspections of Iranian facilities, including military sites. And it marks a dramatic break from decades of animosity between the United States and Iran, countries that alternatively call each other the “leading state sponsor of terrorism” and the “the Great Satan.”
“This is a historic moment,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said as he attended a final session alongside his counterparts from the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia in Vienna on Tuesday morning. “We are reaching an agreement that is not perfect for anybody, but it is what we could accomplish, and it is an important achievement for all of us. Today could have been the end of hope on this issue. But now we are starting a new chapter of hope.”
“#IranTalks done. We have the agreement,” Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign policy chief, confirmed in a tweet.
The formal announcement of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was to be made after the meeting, and President Barack Obama planned to deliver a statement from the White House. Its completion comes after more than two weeks of furious diplomacy, during which negotiators blew through three self-imposed deadlines. Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who conducted most of the negotiations, both threatened to walk away while trading accusations of intransigence.
The breakthrough came after several key compromises.
Diplomats said Iran agreed to the continuation of a U.N. arms embargo on the country for up to five more years, though it could end earlier if the International Atomic Energy Agency definitively clears Iran of any current work on nuclear weapons. A similar condition was put on U.N. restrictions on the transfer of ballistic missile technology to Tehran, which could last for up to eight more years.
Washington had sought to maintain the ban on Iran importing and exporting weapons, concerned that an Islamic Republic flush with cash from the nuclear deal would expand its military assistance for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and other forces opposing America’s Mideast allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Iranian leaders insisted the embargo had to end as their forces combat regional scourges such as the Islamic State. And they got some support from China and particularly Russia, which wants to expand military cooperation and arms sales to Tehran, including the long-delayed transfer of S-300 advanced air defense systems – a move long opposed by the United States.
Another significant agreement will allow U.N. inspectors to press for visits to Iranian military sites as part of their monitoring duties, something the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had long vowed to oppose. However, access isn’t guaranteed and could be delayed, a condition that critics of the deal are sure to seize on as possibly giving Tehran time to cover up any illicit activity.
Under the accord, Tehran would have the right to challenge the U.N request and an arbitration board composed of Iran and the six world powers would then decide on the issue. The IAEA also wants the access to complete its long-stymied investigation of past weapons work by Iran, and the U.S. says Iranian cooperation is needed for all economic sanctions to be lifted.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Tuesday his agency and Iran had signed a “roadmap” to resolve outstanding concerns, hopefully by mid-December.
The economic benefits for Iran are potentially massive. It stands to receive more than $100 billion in assets frozen overseas, and an end to a European oil embargo and various financial restrictions on Iranian banks.
Zarif said the agreement, which runs almost 100 pages, was a “win-win solution.”
But it didn’t come easily, as tempers flared and voices were raised during debates over several of the most contentious matters. The mood soured particularly last week after Iran dug in its heels on several points and Kerry threatened to abandon the effort, according to diplomats involved in the talks. They weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the private diplomacy and demanded anonymity.
By Monday, however, the remaining gaps were bridged in a meeting that started with Kerry, Mogherini and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and then involved the Iranians. A half-hour after Zarif’s inclusion, the ministers emerged and told aides they had an accord.
The deal comes after nearly a decade of international, intercontinental diplomacy that until recently was defined by failure. Breaks in the talks sometimes lasted for months, and Iran’s nascent nuclear program expanded into one that Western intelligence agencies saw as only a couple of months away from weapons capacity. The U.S. and Israel both threatened possible military responses.
The United States joined the negotiations in 2008, and U.S. and Iranian officials met together secretly four years later in Oman to see if diplomatic progress was possible. But the process remained essentially stalemated until summer 2013, when Hassan Rouhani was elected president and declared his country ready for serious compromise.
More secret U.S.-Iranian discussions followed, culminating in a face-to-face meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the United Nations in September 2013 and a telephone conversation between Rouhani and President Barack Obama. That conversation marked the two countries’ highest diplomatic exchange since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the ensuing hostage crisis at the American embassy in Tehran.
Kerry and Zarif took the lead in the negotiations. Two months later, in Geneva, Iran and the six powers announced an interim agreement that temporarily curbed Tehran’s nuclear program and unfroze some Iranian assets while setting the stage for Tuesday’s comprehensive accord.
It took time to get the final deal, however. The talks missed deadlines for the pact in July 2014 and November 2014, leading to long extensions. Finally, in early April, negotiators reached framework deal in Lausanne, Switzerland, setting up the last push for the historic agreement.
The disputes are likely to continue, however. In a foreshadowing of the public relations battle ahead, Iranian state TV released a fact sheet of elements it claimed were in the final agreement — a highly selective list that highlighted Iranian gains and minimized its concessions.
Among them was an assertion that all sanctions-related U.N. resolutions will be lifted at once. While a new U.N. resolution will revoke previous sanctions, it will also re-impose restrictions in a number of categories.
Beyond the parties to the pact, spoilers abound.
In the United States, Congress has a 60-day review period during which Obama cannot make good on any concessions to the Iranians. U.S. lawmakers could hold a vote of disapproval and take further action.
Iranian hardliners oppose dismantling a nuclear program the country has spent hundreds of billions of dollars developing. Khamenei, while supportive of his negotiators thus far, has issued a series of defiant red lines that may be impossible to reconcile in a deal with the West.
And further afield, Israel will strongly oppose the outcome. It sees the acceptance of extensive Iranian nuclear infrastructure and continued nuclear activity as a mortal threat, and has warned that it could take military action on its own, if necessary.
The deal is a “bad mistake of historic proportions,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, adding that it would enable Iran to “continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region.”
Sunni Arab rivals of Shiite Iran are none too happy, either, with Saudi Arabia in particularly issuing veiled threats to develop its own nuclear program.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed.