Demands from Congress that it should get to review President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran have received a boost from an unlikely source: Vladimir Putin.
On Tuesday, just 24 hours after Russia's president said he was going to send S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker announced he had strong bipartisan support for a bill giving Congress that sort of oversight role on a deal -- if, indeed, a final pact based on the framework reached in Switzerland this month is ever reached.
Corker has accommodated some Democratic concerns by shrinking the window under which Congress would review a deal and removing language that would require the president to certify Iran was no longer supporting terrorist groups. But it still gives Congress the strong oversight role Corker sought.
The White House had previously warned that Corker's bill would set a dangerous precedent by weakening the president's ability to conduct foreign policy, and that it could wreck the negotiations to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. On Tuesday, however, administration spokesman Josh Earnest indicated the president would sign it if passed, as long as no objectionable amendments were added.
In short: Putin inadvertently made a strong case for the Corker bill when he effectively went back on Russia's word not to sell Iran the powerful air defense system, and now the White House has backed down from its veto threat.
On Monday, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said in a statement that the sale was justified in part because Iran had consented to the framework agreement on April 2. "We believe that the need for this kind of embargo, indeed a separate, voluntary Russian embargo, has completely disappeared," Lavrov said. The problem, however, is that framework agreement, as Iran's supreme leader made clear, is not much of an agreement at all on key components of a proposed deal.
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told us that Lavrov's argument raised the threat that Russia's decision to lift its own ban on the S-300 might lead other countries to take unilateral steps undermining sanctions as well. For example, China has billions of dollars worth of Iranian oil revenue frozen in its banks as a result of sanctions which it now could decide to free up based on the framework deal.
"The fact that the Russians feel they can implement such a deal tells you everything you need to know about the extent to which the Russians, Chinese and others don't fear U.S. sanctions enforcement," Dubowitz said. "It would surprise no one if the Chinese tomorrow released billions of dollars in escrowed oil revenue from Iran."
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