A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry after a White House meeting attempting to stave off lawmakers’ revolt over an interim deal between Iran and the “P5+1” (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany) widely believed to be in the works. The meeting, as evidenced by the letter, was only partially successful.

President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.<br />(Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press) President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
(Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press)

In their letter, Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) praised Kerry for the “efforts of your negotiating team to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability,” but warned against an interim deal of precisely the type expected to be reached in Geneva this week:

It is our understanding that the interim agreement now under consideration would not require Iran to even meet the terms of prior United Nations Security Council resolutions which require Iran to suspend its reprocessing, heavy water-related and enrichment-related activities and halt ongoing construction of any uranium-enrichment, reprocessing, or heavy water-related facilities. For example, we understand that the P5+1 is prepared to permit Iran to continue enriching uranium at 3.5 percent albeit for civilian use, to cap but not reduce its number of centrifuges, and to continue work around or near the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. While the interim agreement may suggest that Iran could be willing temporarily to slow its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, it could also allow Iran to continue making some progress toward that end under the cover of negotiations. This does not give us confidence that Iran is prepared to abandon unambiguously its nuclear weapons pursuit altogether, as it must.

Furthermore, it is our understanding that in return for certain Iranian actions, the P5+1 would allow Iran to gain access to considerable amounts of capital that have been frozen by our international sanctions. Some have estimated the value of this capital for Iran as much as $10 billion. We regard this as a major concession on our part that would not be justified by the concessions the Iranian regime would be required to make in return. If we are reducing sanctions, Iran should be reducing its nuclear capabilities.

Noticeably absent was any statement on further sanctions. It is not hard to figure out why — the Dems have prevented any action this week. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) refused to mark up a banking bill and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) so far has blocked amendments to the defense authorization bill. Once again for these Democrats, party loyalty trumps national security and support for Israel. Ominously, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told the media, “‘There is a much greater understanding of what is on the table,’ . . . However, he said although some senators at the meeting were satisfied with what they heard, others were ‘very unsatisfied.’ ” Presumably the Democrats are not so unsatisfied as to take action this week.

Graham appeared on Fox News listing the essential elements of a good deal, which he plans to introduce in the form of legislation: “1) Turn over all enriched uranium to the international community, 2) Get out of the enrichment business, 3) Dismantle the plutonium producing reactor at Arak, and 4) If a commercial nuclear program is desired, let the fuel cycle be controlled by the international community.” None of these is expected to be included in an interim deal.

While no additional sanctions will be in place before the next round of P5+1 talks — no doubt giving Iran hope there will be relief from the economic pressure that brought it to the table — Democrats and Republicans alike have laid down some markers as to what is and is not an acceptable deal. This is critical insofar a bad deal can be measured against the standards the senators set forth. If a faulty deal is presented, Democrats like Schumer, Casey and Menendez will be on the spot to pass additional sanctions and/or make clear that Israel and other U.S. allies in the region are imperiled by an interim deal. Depending on how bad the deal really is, Israel, the Saudis and others may feel no particular pressure to wait out the six-month period (the time frame specified for a final deal) before acting without the United States.

UPDATE: The Daily Beast reports six GOP senators are now directly confronting the administration by offering an Iran sanctions amendment to the defense authorization act. Will Reid kill it? The plot thickens.