The bill, amid intense negotiations between world powers and Iran on a deal intended to prevent Tehran’s development of a nuclear weapon in exchange for lifting of economic sanctions, passed 98-1, after overcoming initial objections from President Barack Obama.
“We worked hard to create a great bipartisan balance,” said the measure’s chief author, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker.
Republican Tom Cotton was the lone member voting in opposition to legislation that would give lawmakers at least 30 days to review any final Iran accord.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where it has support of the chamber’s Republican leaders.
Assuming it goes through, it would also prevent Obama from easing economic sanctions against Tehran during the review period, and would compel him to assert to Congress every 90 days that Iran was complying with the deal.
Lawmakers would have the ability to support or oppose the nuclear pact by voting for or against lifting congressionally imposed sanctions on Iran. Should Congress pass a resolution disapproving of the accord, Obama would have 12 days to veto it. If he does, Congress would have 10 more days to override the veto.
Democrats and Republicans alike said it was vital to assert congressional oversight over the nuclear deal. “This is important because this president has shown a predisposition to go it alone,” number two Senate Republican John Cornyn said.
US lawmakers, he added, “can not be frozen out of the debate and the decision-making when it comes to something as important as an Iranian nuclear negotiation.”
“Our goal is to stop a bad agreement that could pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran (and) set off a regional nuclear arms race,” said House Speaker John Boehner in applauding the bill’s passage by the Senate.
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the chief co-sponsor of the bill with Corker, said Congress, and not the executive branch, should determine whether it is appropriate to lift the sanctions that have stalled Iran’s economy. “Sanctions relief is not a given and it is not a prize for signing on the dotted line,” Menendez said.
Obama, who had wanted unfettered negotiation powers with Tehran, lifted his veto threat and on Apr 17 declared that the measure “will not derail the negotiations.”
But the bill ran into difficulty in recent weeks when conservative senators moved to add amendments, including one by 2016 presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio that would require Tehran to publicly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as part of the final nuclear agreement.
Such an amendment would likely pass, but Democrats warned it would kill the bill and perhaps prompt Iran to walk away from the negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked such amendments from being included.
“The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act offers the best chance for our constituents, through the Congress they elect, to weigh in on the White House’s negotiations with Iran,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “And make no mistake, they need to have that opportunity.”
As envisioned by US negotiators, the nuclear accord would make it difficult for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon, and make any attempt to do so detectable.
Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Saudi Arabia in a bid to assuage concerns in the Gulf region about Iran’s intent to develop a bomb despite the accord, insisted Thursday that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
The Senate vote brought swift praise from AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group in Washington. “This important legislation provides Congress a mechanism to assert its historic foreign policy role,” AIPAC said in a statement.