Kerry Defends UN Vote on Iran Deal, Says Bought Congress Time

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks after a vote in the Security Council at U.N. headquarters, Monday, July 20, 2015.

Seth Wenig/AP

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United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks after a vote in the Security Council at U.N. headquarters, Monday, July 20, 2015.

Members of Congress wanted a vote on the Iran agreement before the U.N. had its say, but the Obama administration says it fought and won them a 90-day window.

Secretary of State John Kerry had a blunt response Monday to U.S. lawmakers’ outcry over the United Nations Security Council’s unanimous endorsement of a resolution on the Iran deal: The rest of the world isn’t subject to the U.S. Congress.

That’s unlikely to pacify U.S. lawmakers, who had written to President Barack Obama last week asking him to postpone the U.N. vote until after a 60-day congressional review period mandated by U.S. law. They argued the administration’s rush to go to the U.N. first was an end run around the legislation passed overwhelmingly in May with bipartisan support. Kerry said on Monday that the agreement he helped negotiate actually creates a longer 90-day window for the U.N. to wait before the deal is implemented.

“We actually got our colleagues in sovereign countries, who have no obligation to the Congress, to agree to accept 90 days of no implementation of the resolution they voted on today,” Kerry said. “But frankly, some of these other countries were quite resistant to the idea as sovereign nations that they are subject to the U.S. Congress. So we worked out a compromise … in a way that fully protects the prerogative of the U.S. Congress.”

The members of the UNSC voted 15-0 for the deal on Monday morning. Its five permanent members — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain, and France — along with Germany, make up the P5+1 group which negotiated the deal with Iran over its nuclear program for the past 18 months.

“The administration’s decision to endorse this agreement at the U.N. prior to a vote in Congress on behalf of the American people is contrary to the spirit of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a statement Monday. “It is inappropriate to commit the United States to meet certain international obligations without even knowing if Congress and the American people approve or disapprove of the Iran agreement.”

The 60-day clock on Congress’s review period began Monday after the State Department transmitted the agreement to Congress. Kerry emphasized Monday afternoon that the UNSC’s vote merely kicks off the three-month waiting period for the U.N. in which there will be no implementation of the deal, “so no ability of Congress has been impinged on.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in response to the lawmakers’ letter on Friday, “It bears repeating that there is nothing that the United Nations Security Council can or will do to impact the sanctions that the United States has put in place, particularly those sanctions over which Congress has jurisdiction.”

Kerry showed he has an intimate understanding of the concerns voiced by diplomats and legislators, having chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before taking up his cabinet post.

“When you’re negotiating with six other countries it does require obviously a measure of sensitivity and multilateral cooperation that has to take into account other nations at the same time,” Kerry said. “They were insistent a vote take place because they were, after all, negotiating under the umbrella of the U.N., and they thought it was appropriate when they completed their work for the U.N. to make its judgement.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said that the commitments in the Iran deal can only take effect in three months, “when our respective capitals and legislatures have had a chance to carefully review the deal’s provisions.”

“Ultimately, the only proper measure of this deal – and all of the tireless efforts that went into it – will be its implementation,” Power said in a statement after the vote Monday.

A number of Republican lawmakers have vowed to kill the agreement, but Obama has pledged to veto any measure to disapprove the deal at the end of the review period in September. The administration only needs the support of 34 senators, or a third of the Senate or House, to prevent Congress from overriding a presidential veto.

The White House lobbying campaign continues Thursday when Kerry is scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

The sell will be tough, but as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman put it Thursday, it would’ve been even tougher for the U.S. to say: “‘Well, excuse me, the world, you should wait for the U.S. Congress.’”

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