White House agrees to give Congress a say on Iran deal

Bill Giving Congress Iran Deal Oversight Moves Ahead
WASHINGTON (AP) - Bowing to pressure from Republicans and his own party, President Barack Obama on Tuesday relented to a compromise empowering Congress to reject his emerging nuclear pact with Iran.

The rare and reluctant agreement between the president and the Republican-led Congress came after the White House maintained for weeks that congressional interference could jeopardize sensitive negotiations with Tehran. But lawmakers refused to back down from their insistence that Congress have a formal role in what could be a historic deal to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved the compromise bill shortly after White House spokesman Josh Earnest conveyed the president's decision to sign it.

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US Iran Nuclear Talks -- Congress -- John Kerry -- updated 5/22/2015
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White House agrees to give Congress a say on Iran deal
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (2nd L) (R-TN) gavels the start of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup meeting on the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A bipartisan compromise reached by Corker and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) would create a review period that is shorter than originally proposed for a final nuclear deal with Iran and creates compromise language on the removal of sanctions contingent on Iran ceasing support for terrorism. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (L) (R-TN) shakes hands with ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (R) (D-MD) during a committee markup meeting on the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A bipartisan compromise reached by Corker and Cardin would create a review period that is shorter than originally proposed for a final nuclear deal with Iran and creates compromise language on the removal of sanctions contingent on Iran ceasing support for terrorism. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (Rear), a Republican presidential candidate, passes Sen. Marco Rubio (bottom), a Republican presidential candidate, as senators make their opening remarks during a markup meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A bipartisan compromise reached by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) would create a review period that is shorter than originally proposed for a final nuclear deal with Iran and creates compromise language on the removal of sanctions contingent on Iran ceasing support for terrorism. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 08: Acting U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf conducts a daily press briefing at the State Department April 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. Harf spoke on various topics including the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama makes a statement at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 2, 2015 after a deal was reached on Iran's nuclear program. Iran and world powers agreed on the framework of a potentially historic deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear drive after marathon talks in Switzerland. (Photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 02: A teleprompter shows the text for U.S. President Barack Obama's remarks on negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program on April 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. In exchange for Iran's agreement to curb their country's nuclear proliferation, the United States would lift some of the crippling sanctions imposed. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 2: U.S. President Barack Obama boards Air Force One after making a statement on Iran nuclear negotiations in the White House April 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. The so-called P5+1 nations reached an agreement for an Iranian nuclear program and a process to lift sanctions against Iran after talks in Switzerland. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) walks with bodyguard in the garden of the Beau-Rivage Palace hotel during a break in Iran nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 1, 2015. Rollercoaster talks aimed at stopping Iran getting a nuclear bomb went into extra time amid cautious signs that after seven days of tough negotiations a framework deal may be near.  (Photo credit: ABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) gestures while waiting for the opening of a plenary session with P5+1 ministers, European Union and Iranian minister on Iran nuclear talks at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 31, 2015. Foreign ministers from major powers kicked off early a final scheduled day of talks aimed at securing the outlines of a potentially historic nuclear deal with Iran by a midnight deadline. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 31: P5+1 Ministers, European Union and Iranian officials wait for the opening of a plenary session on Iran nuclear talks at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 31, 2015. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 31: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier waits for the opening of a plenary session on Iran nuclear talks P5+1 Ministers, European Union and Iranian officials at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 31, 2015. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - FEBRUARY 5: Senator Tom Cotton speaks during a news conference with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee about arming Ukraine in the fight against Russia in Washington, D.C. on February 5, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 03: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd L) poses for photographers with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (2nd L), Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (4th L), Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) (L) and Minority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (DIL) (R) prior to a meeting at the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. At the risk of further straining the relationship between Israel and the Obama Administration, Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress warning congressional members against what he considers an ill-advised nuclear deal with Iran. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 3: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before joint session of Congress, on March, 03, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (Far R) goes for a stroll with assistant and security on the shore of Lake Geneva upon his arrival on February 22, 2015 in Geneva. Kerry arrived in Geneva for renewed talks with his Iranian counterpart on Tehran's nuclear programme, after warning 'significant gaps' remain as a key deadline approaches. Kerry is set to sit down for two days of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country denies its nuclear programme has military objectives. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) arrives at his hotel on February 22, 2015 in Geneva. Kerry arrived in Geneva for renewed talks with his Iranian counterpart on Tehran's nuclear programme, after warning 'significant gaps' remain as a key deadline approaches. Kerry is set to sit down for two days of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country denies its nuclear programme has military objectives. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) walks back to his hotel after on February 23, 2015 in Geneva. Washington and Tehran's top diplomats sat down again on February 23 for talks on Iran's nuclear program as they struggled to narrow gaps ahead of a key deadline. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) goes for a stroll with assistants and security along the shores of Lake Geneva upon his arrival on February 22, 2015 in Geneva. Kerry arrived in Geneva for renewed talks with his Iranian counterpart on Tehran's nuclear programme, after warning 'significant gaps' remain as a key deadline approaches. Kerry is set to sit down for two days of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country denies its nuclear programme has military objectives. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 21: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a media briefing at the U.S. Embassy on February 21, 2015 in London, England. Earlier Kerry met with British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond and it's expected that the issue of the continuing conflict in the Ukraine will dominate talks between the two nations. (Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)
Is the U.S. being too soft on Iran when negotiating on sanctions and a potential nuclear deal? Strategic Policy Consulting's Alireza Jafarzadeh and WSJ's Simon Constable discuss.
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"Maybe they saw the handwriting on the wall," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after the White House dropped its opposition.

Both houses of Congress are now likely to pass the bill, which cleared the committee 19-0. It's expected to come before the full Senate as soon as next week.

A vote on an actual agreement to lift economic sanctions in exchange for Iranian nuclear concessions would come later, if negotiations between the Obama administration, Iran and five other nations come to fruition.

Obama retains his right to veto any attempt by Congress to scuttle such a pact if the time comes. To override a veto would require a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate, meaning some Democrats would have to oppose their president to sink a deal.

The White House's announcement came after an intensive administration effort to prevent Democrats from signing on to legislation requiring Obama to submit any pact with Iran to Congress.

International negotiators are trying to reach a deal blocking Iran's path toward nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that are crippling its economy.

"We believe it is our role to ensure that any deal with Iran makes them accountable, is transparent and is enforceable," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker said Secretary of State John Kerry was lobbying against the legislation on Capitol Hill a few hours before the vote. The Republican said the White House's sudden support was dictated by the number of senators - Republicans and Democrats - backing the measure.

"I supported today's compromise after the administration assured me that the reworked bill would preserve our negotiators' ability to do their jobs," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Obama, whose foreign policy legacy would be burnished by a deal with Iran, has been in a standoff for months with lawmakers who said Congress should have a chance to weigh in and remain skeptical that Iran will honor an agreement.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China reached a preliminary agreement with Iran on April 2 to curb its nuclear program and hope to finalize a pact by June 30.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who opposed the original bill as "harmful to the negotiations," sent a letter to colleagues late Tuesday expressing support for the compromise worked out by Corker and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

Earnest said the White House would withhold final judgment on the bill while it works its way through Congress, wary that potential changes could be made in committee that would render it unpalatable. But he said the White House could support the compromise in its current form.

"Despite the things about it that we don't like, enough substantial changes have been made that the president would be willing to sign it," Earnest said.

An earlier version of the bill sought to put any plan by Obama to lift sanctions on Iran on hold for up to 60 days while Congress reviewed the deal. The compromise approved by the committee shortened the review period to 30 days. During that time, Obama would be able to lift sanctions imposed through presidential action, but would be blocked from easing sanctions levied by Congress.

Under the terms of the compromise, if a nuclear deal is submitted after July 9 - a short time after the final agreement is to be reached - the review period would revert to 60 days. The president would be required to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is complying with terms of the agreement.

The compromise also struck a provision in the initial bill that would have required the president to certify that Iran is not supporting terrorism and substituted weaker language.

The original provision's author, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., tried Tuesday to add the requirement back in. But Corker and others said the amendment would be a deal-killer, and the panel rejected it.

Other GOP senators backed off their anti-Iran amendments.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who announced his candidacy for president Monday, had proposed an amendment that would require Iran's leaders to accept Israel's right to exist. Rubio said his amendment probably could have passed in the committee, but ultimately "could imperil the entire arrangement."

Rubio said the new version has language on Israel that "is better than not having it at all" and said his original amendment might still come up during a debate by the full Senate.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said he felt confident the compromises will hold, but said Democrats would withdraw their support if Republicans successfully push amendments that would pull the bill "sharply to the right." He was referring to amendments proposed by Republicans to make the administration certify that Iran is not supporting terrorism and had publicly renounced its threat to destroy Israel - two obstacles that would be nearly impossible to scale.

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Associated Press writers Charles Babington, Josh Lederman and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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