Senator warns Obama: Don’t skip Congress for U.N. on Iran

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., center, flanked by the committee's ranking member Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ., right, and Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, as Secretary of State John Kerry, center, back to camera, testifies. Three of America's top national security officials face questions on Capitol Hill about new war powers being drafted to fight Islamic State militants, Iran's sphere of influence and hotspots across the Mideast. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R.-Tenn) warned President Barack Obama on Thursday against taking a potential nuclear deal with Iran to the U.N. Security Council while bypassing Congress.

"There are now reports that your administration is contemplating taking an agreement, or aspects of it, to the United Nations Security Council for a vote," Corker said in a letter to Obama.

"Enabling the United Nations to consider an agreement or portions of it, while simultaneously threatening to veto legislation that would enable Congress to do the same, is a direct affront to the American people and seeks to undermine Congress’s appropriate role," he said in the letter, which was made public by his office.

Corker is the main author of legislation aimed at giving Congress an up-or-down vote on any accord that results from the negotiations. The White House has threatened to veto the measure, which currently does not have enough support to overcome the president's rejection.

The United States and its partners – Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia – have set an end-of-March deadline for reaching a framework agreement with Iran meant to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon. Obama has made clear that he will not submit any such deal to Congress for approval. Republicans warned in a controversial letter this week that doing so may mean that Congress or the next president will act to nullify the accord.

But the Obama Administration could decide to put all or part of a deal, if one is reached, to a U.N. Security Council vote. Success would be virtually certain, because the negotiations currently group the council’s five veto-wielding permanent members. And the result could be to make any such agreement binding on the parties, according to a new legal analysis by influential Harvard Law School Professor Jack Goldsmith. It would also make it much harder for a future U.S. president to cancel the agreement unless Iran is caught cheating.

In this March 3, 2015, photo, President Barack Obama speaks about Iran and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress during a meeting with Defense Secretary Ash Carter in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Since Republicans took control of Congress two months ago, an elaborate tug of war has broken out between GOP lawmakers and Obama over who calls the shots on major issues for the next two years. On some fronts, Obama has held his ground. He’s watched near-gleefully as Republicans bungled early attempts to legislate and put their own internal disputes on display. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)

The State Department has declined to specify how any agreement would be implemented.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said this week in a response to Republican opponents of the negotiations that the council would back any accord.

“It will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution,” Zarif said, according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry.

Any deal will lay out the terms and conditions under which Iran will get relief from crippling economic sanctions, including many imposed by the U.N., in return for accepting international monitoring and verification measures meant to ensure that it could not move to build a nuclear weapon without the world’s knowledge. The president could ease U.S. sanctions unilaterally, but would need Congress to vote on lifting them altogether.