Obama Administration Blasts Corker Amendment: We Can’t Have 535 Negotiators With Iran

Following Menendez suspension of legislation on U.S.-Israeli Strategic Partnership, senior official says Republican move would undermine talks and “limit president’s authority to negotiate with foreign countries.


The Obama Administration came out swinging on Tuesday night against efforts to curtail its negotiations with Iran, saying that it is “absolutely opposed” to the proposed Corker Amendment to the Israel-U.S. Strategic Partnership Act that would give Congress a direct role in approving any nuclear deal with Tehran.

Citing constitutional concerns and portraying the proposed amendment as a violation of the separation of powers, a senior Administration official told Haaretz on Tuesday night: “We are absolutely opposed to this amendment, and any similar amendments that are intended to limit the President’s authority and ability to negotiate with foreign countries. Such amendments would set a precedent that would severely compromise Presidents of both parties from conducting American foreign policy. We cannot have 535 negotiators for every negotiation with a foreign country.”

The official was reacting to reports that New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez had pulled the proposed strategic upgrade from his Senate Foreign Relations Committee because of sharp White House disapproval of the amendment submitted by Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker. The Amendment would compel the Administration to submit any deal with Iran to Congress within 3 days of its signature and would allow Congress to hold hearings and to hold a “vote of disapproval” on any deal that is achieved.

The Strategic Partnership Act, which has already been approved by the House of Representatives, would upgrade strategic collaboration between Israel and the U.S. and is considered to be the jewel in the crown on the agenda of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. Nonetheless, an AIPAC source squarely backed the Corker Amendment on Tuesday: “AIPAC supports provisions such as the Corker Amendment which underscore the key role that Congress must play in defining the terms of an acceptable deal [with Iran] and its implementation, an AIPAC source said.

The senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the in addition to its constitutional objections, the administration’s opposition to the Corker move stems from its conviction that it could derail the talks altogether. “These actions would also undermine the negotiations and our goal of a peaceful resolution to this issue,” the official said.

“Our negotiators need flexibility to achieve a comprehensive package that best achieves our goal. That cannot be done by going down a checklist of predetermined language to lock in end state positions or publicly expressed negotiating positions. It must be done by looking at how the various elements fit together into an overall package that fully meets our concerns. We also know from experience that the Iranians will take a tit-for-tat approach, with Iran’s hardliners and Majlis seeking to lock the Iranian negotiators into maximalist positions that are unacceptable to us.”

The official said that the administration does not contest the fact that Congress has a role to play. “There is clearly a role for Congress in our Iran policy. Building the sanctions regime was a major diplomatic achievement in which Congress played a critical role. It is too early to determine what a sanctions relief package would look like, since comprehensive negotiations are ongoing. But, ultimately, comprehensive sanctions relief would clearly require a mix of executive and legislative action.”

The proposed Strategic Partnership bill would designate Israel as a “major strategic partner” for the United State. It would expand authority to deploy U.S weapons stockpiles in Israel as well as the ability to transfer weapons and ammunition to Israel itself, would direct the secretary of commerce to take steps to make Israel eligible for a Strategic Trade Authorization (STA) license exemption for certain items subject to export controls, would call for increased collaboration on a wide variety of areas such as energy water and homeland security and would lay the foundation for the establishment of a joint United States-Israel Cyber Security Center.