Brushing Off US Senate, Rouhani Says Iran's Goal Remains Finalizing Nuke Deal

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Brushing Off US Senate, Rouhani Says Iran's Goal Remains Finalizing Nuke Deal

'We want mutual respect,' says president of Iran. 'We are in talks with the major powers and not with the Congress.'

Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech: ‘If there is no end to sanctions, there will not be an agreement.’ (Photo: Vahid Salemi/AP)

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the passage of a measure giving congressional lawmakers the ability to review a pending nuclear agreement should not interfere with his ultimate goal of signing a deal with the U.S. and other world powers in the coming months.

"What the U.S. Senate, Congress and others say is not our problem. We want mutual respect... We are in talks with the major powers and not with the Congress," Rouhani said during speech in the northern Iranian city of Rasht. What the Iranian people and its government want, he added, is an to end international isolation by having "constructive interaction with the world and not confrontation."

He did, however, reassert his country's position that sanctions relief remains key to the deal.

"If there is no end to sanctions, there will not be an agreement," Rouhani said. "The end of these negotiations and a signed deal must include a declaration of cancelling the oppressive sanctions on the great nation of Iran."

On Tuesday, at the insistence of Democrats, a variety of "poison pill" provisions were removed at the last minute from a contentious bill demanding congressional review of a final nuclear accord between Iran and the U.S. This paved the way for unanimous passage through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after the White House lifted its opposition to the measure's final language and all Democrats on the committee joined Republicans to approve it. 

The bill will now head to the full Senate floor for a vote. Given the lifting of White House opposition, it is nearly certain to pass. The House is now working on passing a similar bill. President Obama has said—barring no significant changes are made or troubling amendments re-inserted—he will sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

President Obama and his top foreign policy staff had pleaded at length with Senate lawmakers not to interfere legislatively, but ultimately conceded after the mechanics of the congressional review were softened from earlier versions.

As the New York Times explains:

The essence of the legislation is that Congress will have a chance to vote on whatever deal emerges with Iran — if one is reached by June 30 — but in a way that would be extremely difficult for Mr. Obama to lose, allowing Secretary of State John Kerry to tell his Iranian counterpart that the risk that an agreement would be upended on Capitol Hill is limited.

As Congress considers any accord on a very short timetable, it would essentially be able to vote on an eventual end to sanctions, and then later take up the issue depending on whether Iran has met its own obligations. But if it rejected the agreement, Mr. Obama could veto that legislation — and it would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto, meaning that Mr. Obama could lose upward of a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail.

The bill would require that the administration send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it is completed. It also halts any lifting of sanctions pending a 30-day congressional review, and culminates in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of congressionally imposed sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. It passed 19 to 0.

In response to the news from Washington, D.C., spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry Marzieh Afkham echoed Rouhani by saying that internal politics in the U.S. Congress would not derail the negotiations as they move forward towards the June deadline.

"That is an issue related to their domestic affairs. We are dealing with the American government," she said at a news conference carried by state television on Wednesday. Afkham is the first female ambassador appointed to such a high rank within Iran's Foreign Ministry.

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