U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker says he intends to introduce legislation Friday giving Congress the power to review any nuclear deal with Iran, while delaying consideration so it won’t coincide with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to lawmakers next week.
The White House and congressional Democrats have criticized House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu to speak to lawmakers March 3 as a breach of protocol, injecting partisan tension into an already strained relationship between the U.S. and Israel.
“There’s a piece of legislation that we’d like to bring forth in a markup next week and because Netanyahu is coming, we’ve been asked to hold back a week because people don’t want it to look as though the legislation is in response to him being here,” Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said Thursday at a Bloomberg breakfast in Washington.
Corker’s proposal would give Congress the power to block any deal that President Barack Obama’s administration reaches with Iran to curb its nuclear program by voting before an accord could take effect.
Committee consideration of the bill will be delayed because of concerns voiced by Democrats, Corker said. Netanyahu has said he will use the speech to warn against what he labels a “bad” deal that world powers are negotiating with Iran.
Secretary of State John Kerry signaled to Foreign Relations Committee members at a Feb. 24 hearing that the administration would oppose any effort to give Congress an effective veto and warned that even pursuing the issue may complicate negotiations by making the Iranians less confident in Obama’s ability to honor an agreement.
“Every nuance of what we do here, folks, I’m telling you, gets interpreted and usually in ways that make our negotiating life harder,” Kerry told Corker’s committee.
Corker, who traveled to Iraq last week, said the situation there was “really depressing.”
“It is disheartening in this way in that every single thing that we’re doing right now in Iraq is to Iran’s benefit,” he said.
At the breakfast, Corker broadly criticized the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy, including its dealings with Russia.
The committee chairman also said that it was “an embarrassment and a blight on U.S. policy” that the U.S. hadn’t done more to provide Ukraine with defensive weaponry to withstand Russia’s advances.
“A long time ago we should’ve been giving them lethal weaponry that they can handle,” Corker said. “I think we have not shown much moral fiber as it relates to Ukraine. I think it’s an embarrassment and a blight on U.S. policy that we’ve handled it in the way that we have.”
As lawmakers begin consideration of a request to authorize the use of force against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, Corker said Republicans wanted assurances that there was a “real commitment” by the administration, particularly to train and equip Syrian rebel forces.
Recruitment of moderate rebels to combat Islamic State has been “decent” so far, he said, adding that the president needed to assure recruits that he was “willing to give them some degree of safe haven,” including air cover against Syrian government forces.
“You can’t just send people out in the field, you have to support them” he said. “The president hasn’t agreed to do that yet.”
Obama has expressed reluctance to extend U.S. military involvement into a direct confrontation with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.