Biden administration officials have indicated that it may only take weeks to revert to a JCPOA-like deal with Iran. This return would give the Iranian regime immediate access to around $ 90 billion in foreign currency reserves currently frozen by U.S. sanctions, and would allow Iran to freely export oil and petrochemical products, thereby saving the regime at least another 50 Could generate billions of dollars in revenue annually. The US Congress will have only a short window of time to prevent Iran from receiving this huge financial gain and for Republicans to try to hold the Democrats in Congress accountable for any support for this plan.
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), which was passed by Congress in 2015 during the JCPOA negotiations, provides for and creates one for Congress to review any agreements reached by the executive regarding the Iranian nuclear program Process for Congress to approve or reject any deal. However, the Biden administration hopes to bypass Congress review altogether by renaming its negotiations as “Return to Compliance with Original JCPOA” instead of admitting that ongoing negotiations will result in a new deal that specifically revises requires Congress.
The headwinds against Republicans blocking the deal will get tougher from then on. Even if Biden changes course and puts the text of the deal in Congress, Democrats who control both the Senate and House of Representatives can block any review vote on the new deal by simply not giving resolutions to approve or reject the nuclear deal . Given the importance of these negotiations to the future of the Middle East, and indeed global security, it would be a great disservice to the American people to prevent Congressmen from participating in the deal, but the democratic leadership may find that decision more appropriate than subject vulnerable members to a controversial vote.
However, INARA has a separate process that can be used to determine Congressional support for ongoing negotiations. A process has been included in INARA that will allow Congress to lift all sanctions against Iran and block future sanctions if the agreement does not work as intended. This process is completely independent of the ongoing negotiations with Iran and could start today. INARA transfers this sensitive power to the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives, who can force votes to lift the sanctions on Iran, regardless of which party is in power in any of the chambers.
The time window for the enforcement of basic votes through this process is from June 24th to August 23rd and again from September 22nd to November 21st if no agreement has been reached by then. However, Congress typically takes a break for most of August – making July the only likely time that such a process could be conducted. With this vote, all congressmen would put on record whether they support easing sanctions against Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. If the vote is passed by a simple majority in the House or Senate, it can automatically be scrutinized by the other house, potentially creating a situation where President Biden will be forced to veto if he continues negotiations with Iran would like to.
Here are the rough details of how this path works: Section 135 (e) of INARA created an expedited and privileged legislative process to restore sanctions against Iran. Typically, the President of the United States is required to provide Congress every 90 days with a certificate that Iran (i) has implemented the JCPOA transparently, verifiably and fully, (ii) has not committed or remedied a material breach of the JCPOA, (iii) has taken no action to advance its nuclear weapons program; and (iii) that the lifting of the sanctions is deemed “appropriate and proportionate” to the measures taken by Iran or material to US national security interests.
In the event that the certification is no longer issued by the President in every 90-day window, the snapback process is open for 60 days. The last certificate was sent to Congress in July 2017 by President Donald Trump. In October 2017, Trump announced that he would no longer submit the certificate to Congress, citing condition (iii), and expressed that the sanctions relief was no longer “appropriate and proportionate”. In addition, Iran has continued to breach conditions (i) and (ii) since May 2019. Accordingly, since October 13, 2017, there has been a 60-day window of time every 90 days for majority and minority leaders in Congress to force a vote to lift all legal sanctions against Iran and any repeal, suspension, reduction or other sanction easing to block. The current window was opened on June 24, 2021.
This snapback process is triggered when the majority or minority leader puts forward a law that reflects sanctions against Iran. If the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or House Foreign Affairs Committee fails to act on this bill within 10 days, it will automatically be delegated to the Senate and House of Representatives, where this bill can be voted on within days. Unlike most normal laws, there is no standing order that can be brought against the bill – which guarantees an easy vote up or down. In the Senate, bills are usually subject to a threshold of 60 votes in order to bypass the filibuster. INARA bypasses this process and makes it passable from a threshold of 51 votes.
What does it all mean? First, the legislature has the legislative and procedural tools to oversee Biden’s negotiations with Iran. Second, while the Iranian negotiators are demanding that the US guarantee they will not withdraw from an agreement, Congress is sending exactly the opposite. Vienna negotiators should know that President Joe Biden and Envoy Rob Malley are not the only Americans they need to please in order to reach a lasting settlement – they must also consider, address, and ignore the concerns of Republicans in Congress them at their problem.
The opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Iran International