When is an agreement a treaty?

A bipartisan swath of Congress is at loggerheads with the White House over Iran. Well, not just Iran, but the whole idea of our Constitutional system for foreign relations:
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the White House doesn’t view an agreement with Iran as a treaty that requires Senate approval, but a matter of “executive prerogative.”
How's that again? Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, mentioned something that may be a clue here:
Corker threatened to pull the national security waivers that Congress granted the administration in sanctions legislation, which allow the president to waive sanctions if doing so is important to national security. Such waivers are key to any deal that would involve suspending sanctions at the president’s discretion.
A 2013 article on the Foreign Policy website explained:
The legislation that imposed tough sanctions on Iran’s central bank gives Obama a "national security waiver" he can use to temporarily soften or lift the measures. . . . Congress has tried to make it as hard as possible for the White House to use its waiver powers. To lift the sanctions on Iran’s central bank, for instance, the administration has to certify — in writing — that fully enforcing the measures would harm the national security interests of the U.S. The waiver, which the White House has never used, would also have to be renewed every 120 days, a measure lawmakers inserted into the bills to force the White House to face a heated political fight over the sanctions every four months.
Does the White House agree that the only reason it might have the power to waive sanctions is that Congress granted reversible national security waivers? In a December 2014 article on the National Interest website, Navid Hassibi argued:
Numerous reports indicate that a major reason the P5+1 and Iran failed to reach a nuclear agreement was because Tehran doubted that the White House’ could persuade Congress to lift the sanctions against it.
. . . [A] creative method for ensuring continued sanctions waivers in a post-Obama environment could be to codify them within a UN Security Council resolution. That is, within a larger UNSC resolution, the U.S. could assure Iran that it will honor its commitment to provide sanctions relief. Such action would mandate the United States, the other members of the so-called P5+1 and UN members at-large to repeal sanctions against Iran and refrain from adopting nuclear-related restrictive measures so long as Tehran remains in compliance with the final nuclear agreement.
Supplemented domestically by a blanket executive order by President Obama to continuously and automatically waive sanctions in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution, this will provide future U.S. presidents with the legal impetus and authority to continue waiving the sanctions.
Use the UN to override a bipartisan Congressional revolt!  That should play well.

Even back in 2013, the White House was complaining that Congress wasn't giving negotiations enough time to work. Now the White House is complaining that a bill to trigger additional sanctions upon the failure to reach a verifiable agreement by June 30, 2015, is premature. The White House didn't have Democrats completely signed off on this foreign policy strategy even before the voters gave them a hiding in the November 2014 elections. Things aren't looking any happier now. It's not clear there are 67 Senators willing to override a veto, but when a Democrat senator gets a lot of press complaining that the White House's noises sound like "talking points right out of Tehran," things are getting ugly.


raven said...

Is there any evidence the WH is serious about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability? One could make the opposite case pretty easily.

Grim said...

Indeed, our whole foreign policy in the Middle East seems to be chiefly about helping Iran out.

Texan99 said...

The miffed reaction to Congress's inviting Netanyahu to speak is priceless. At Firedog Lake they think it's a violation of the Logan Act.

Grim said...

Remind them that nobody has ever been prosecuted for violating the Logan Act -- not even John Kerry, who was much more convincingly guilty of it on several occasions (especially when he was running for President).

Texan99 said...

Congress made noises about using the Logan Act against Herbert Hoover. I'm not convinced the Logan Act is good policy under any circumstances, but I'm perfectly convinced that it's an inappropriate tool for once branch of government to brandish against another.

Grim said...

Good point.

Cass said...

It's particularly rich for Obama to complain about Boehner inviting Netanyahu to address Congress when he violated the Logan Act up, down, sideways, backwords, and diagonally during the 2008 election.

"Do as I say, peasants! Not as I did when I was in Congress!!!!"

Texan99 said...

"I'll have more flexibility after the election."