Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Tehran was negotiating a comprehensive nuclear deal with world powers, not the U.S. Congress, and called a Senate committee’s vote to give Congress the power to review any potential deal an American domestic matter.
The Iranian leader, in a televised speech in the northern Iranian city of Rasht, also repeated earlier statements that his country will not accept any comprehensive nuclear deal with world powers unless all sanctions imposed against it are lifted.
“We are in talks with the major powers and not with the Congress,” Rouhani said, Iranian state television reported. Rouhani said the U.S. Congress’s power to review a nuclear deal with Iran was a domestic U.S. matter, the Reuters news agency reported.
He said Iran wanted to end its isolation by fostering “constructive interaction with the world and not confrontation.”
Rouhani’s comments came one day after a Senate committee voted unanimously to give Congress the power to review a potential Iran nuclear deal after a June 30 negotiating deadline, in a compromise with the White House that allows President Obama to avoid possible legislative disapproval of the pact before it can be completed.
On Capitol Hill, top voices in foreign affairs did not seem to be especially perturbed by Rouhani’s remarks.
“To me, that just sounds like, ‘That’s your politics, don’t trouble me with it,’ ” said Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.), who helped negotiate the review bill that passed the Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. “They’ve known from the very beginning that if they want out from congressional sanctions, Congress would have a role. They’ve understood this from the start.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a critic of the negotiations and the framework deal struck this month, said Rouhani’s comments would not change the bipartisan resolve to review a final deal in Congress.
“Given the way that his country works, I can understand why he would think that, since they have no constitution or even human rights,” he said. “He will think differently after the act [passes].”
After the 19-to-0 committee vote, the review legislation could come to the Senate floor for debate and a final vote as early as next week. A White House endorsement for the bill as crafted in committee has paved the way for easy approval if the bill is not significantly amended.
Once the measure passes the Senate, it is expected to get quick consideration in the House, although there could be complications if hard-line Republicans seek to amend the bill to reinsert provisions the Obama administration has opposed.
Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday he expects to move quickly on the bill, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told colleagues in a late Tuesday message that the compromise bill “can be supported.”
It would give Congress at least 30 days to consider an agreement after it was signed, before Obama could waive or suspend any congressionally mandated sanctions against Iran.
During that period, lawmakers could vote their disapproval of the agreement. Any such resolution would have to clear a relatively high bar to become law, requiring 60 votes to pass and 67, or two-thirds of the Senate, to override a presidential veto.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry said in Germany on Wednesday morning he was confident Obama would be able to get Congress to approve a nuclear deal.
“Looming large is the challenge of finishing the negotiation with Iran over the course of the next two and a half months,” Kerry said after arriving in Germany for a Group of Seven foreign ministers’ meeting in the northern city of Luebeck, news agencies reported.
“Yesterday there was a compromise reached in Washington regarding congressional input. We are confident about our ability for the president to negotiate an agreement and to do so with the ability to make the world safer,” he said.
The compromise avoided a potentially destructive showdown between the White House and Congress, as well as a possible free-for-all of congressional action that Obama has said could derail the negotiations while they are underway. It followed extensive administration lobbying on Capitol Hill, including phone calls from Obama and a closed-door Senate meeting Tuesday morning with Kerry and other senior officials.
Although the administration was “not particularly thrilled” by the final result, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said before the vote that it was “the kind of compromise that the president would be willing to sign.”
Throughout the debate over the legislation, the administration insisted that Congress had no power to approve or disapprove any deal Obama made with Iran and could vote only on lifting the sanctions it had passed.
Those sanctions, which include waiver provisions that Obama has now given up for at least 30 days, are just part of the long-standing restrictions against Iran, which include other sanctions imposed over the years by executive order that the president retains the right to waive. Still more sanctions have been imposed by the United Nations and the European Union.
The question of when sanctions would be waived or lifted under an agreement is still to be negotiated, and has been a subject of extensive political jousting between the United States and its five partners at the table — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — and Iran.
The framework agreement between the two sides, signed April 2, indicated that no sanctions would be removed until Iran completed all the requirements of a deal — actions that could take up to six months. Last week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said his interpretation of the framework was that sanctions relief would come immediately after a final deal was signed.
The bill approved Tuesday in committee is limited to congressional sanctions, and it would give lawmakers the option to approve or disapprove an agreement, or to do nothing.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has long pressed for robust congressional oversight of the deal, said Rouhani’s dismissal of Congress was immaterial. “We’re not negotiating directly,” he said. “But we will have a say on what is negotiated at the end of the day.”
Deane reported from London.