Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) unanimously approved a measure that would provide Congress an oversight role on a final nuclear agreement with Iran. This move came as the U.S., its international partners and Iran are hashing out the details of the text before the self-imposed June 30 deadline.
The bill is now on the Senate floor where some Republicans are trying to attach to the bill poison pills that are not relevant to the vital objective of ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. One for example, would require Iran to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; if passed, it would result in collapse of the negotiations.
The breakdown of diplomatic negotiations, especially if seen as being caused by the United States, would be an unmitigated disaster. If the U.S. Congress undermines the talks, we lose not only the progress made in rolling back Iran's nuclear program but also the progress in staving off yet another war in the Middle East.
But first, some context: On April 2, after 19 months of painstaking negotiations, the so-called P5+1 - the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany - agreed with Iran on a framework for a final agreement to regulate Iran's nuclear program. The provisions of this breakthrough framework are much more favorable than many of our experts expected. They significantly reduce the capacity of Iran's nuclear program, block Iran from building a nuclear weapon and introduce an unprecedented inspection and monitoring system to ensure Iranian compliance or to detect any failure of Iran to comply with the agreement.
President Obama said that he would sign the bill that was passed unanimously by the SFRC last week. It remains to be seen, however, whether any of the Republicans' poison pill amendments will pass, making the bill unpalatable to the White House and Senate Democrats. Unfortunately, several Republicans are trying to make use of this bill to derail the negotiations and kill a final agreement.
Fortunately, many in Congress actively support diplomacy to achieve a final agreement. House Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky (IL), Lloyd Doggett (TX), and David Price (NC) are circulating a letter commending President Obama, his team of negotiators and those of our international partners for making significant progress in reining in Iran's nuclear program. The letter also calls on Congress to give our diplomats the space they need to complete this delicate task.
It would be helpful if other representatives would sign this letter, which advocates allowing "the negotiations to run their course - especially now that the parties have announced a strong framework."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who commands a great deal of admiration and respect, said last week that "it is important that Congress refrain from taking actions that could weaken our negotiating position and undermine the multilateral sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table." Yet Mr. Van Hollen could demonstrate more effective leadership by signing the Schakowsky-Doggett-Price letter; this, in turn, would help persuade some of his colleagues to follow suit.
We've come too far for to allow efforts by some in Congress to derail diplomacy with Iran. If this diplomatic process fails, the only other way to try ensure that Iran is not building nuclear weapons would be by periodic military action at great cost in blood, treasure and stability in that volatile region of the world. The Schakowsky-Price-Doggett letter sends the necessary positive signal to solve the critical problem of a potentially nuclear-armed Iran through peaceful negotiations, thereby avoiding yet another costly war involving the United States in the Middle East.