A skeptical Congress to weigh Iran nuclear talks' extension

Article Summary
The Obama administration is trying to sell Congress on a four-month extension of nuclear talks with Iran, but it looks like Republicans aren't buying.

President Obama is dispatching his top Iran negotiator and sanctions expert to Congress next week to try to sell a four-month extension of nuclear talks.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and David Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, are slated to testify in open hearings before the Senate and House foreign affairs panels on Tuesday. They can expect a harsh reception.

“I don’t see an extension of funding to Iran as progress,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in a statement announcing the hearing. “Everything about Iran’s nuclear program signals ‘nuclear bomb,’ yesterday, today and, I worry, tomorrow.”

Already, Senate Republicans have reacted to the extension by introducing a flurry of bills.

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Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, this week introduced legislation with several other members of the committee that would require Congress to formally approve any final deal with Iran.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., followed suit on Thursday with legislation that would prohibit the administration from further relaxing sanctions unless Secretary of State John Kerry certified that none of the $2.8 billion to be incrementally released under the deal would fund terrorism, nuclear weapons development or human rights violations. Six Republicans have already signed on to the bill.

Finally, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, dropped legislation on Friday that requires the “immediate re-implementation of sanctions, additional enforcement mechanisms, and an end to the failed negotiations.” The Sanction Iran, Safeguard America Act would notably expand sanctions related to the petrochemical and automotive sector and prohibit funding for negotiations with Iran without congressional approval.

Democrats have also raised concerns with the extension, but haven’t signed on to any of the new bills.

“If they’re not close, I’m not for extending for extension’s sake,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., told The Hill last week. “From all reports, they’re certainly not close to the standards that I think a majority of the Congress wants.”

In other news, the International Religious Freedom Caucus on Monday will sponsor a briefing on human rights in Iran. Panelists will “share information and updates on the human rights situation in Iran and offer suggestions for steps that members of Congress can take to help promote religious freedom in Iran,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

And the House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing Tuesday on the “Security Situation in Iraq and Syria: US Policy Options and Implications for the Region.” Stephen Biddle of George Washington University and Max Boot with the Council on Foreign Relations are slated to testify.

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Found in: sanctions, nuclear weapons, nuclear negotiations, legislation, iran, foreign policy, congress

Julian Pecquet is Al-Monitor's Washington Editor. He was previously Congressional Correspondent from 2014 through May 2017 and most recently before that headed up The Hill's Global Affairs blog. On Twitter: @JPecquet_ALM, Email: jpecquet@al-monitor.com.

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