Congress' backing of Netanyahu on Iran more show than substance

Congress' backing of Netanyahu on Iran more show than substance

WASHINGTON - While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to the US Congress generated loud applause and worldwide headlines, it is unlikely to lead to new legislation or a shift in US policy toward Iran.

Although Netanyahu won praise from the Republicans who invited him to speak on Tuesday and who control the US Senate and House of Representatives, he faced fierce criticism from Democrats including Barack Obama whose support is crucial to pushing new legislation through, US lawmakers said.

"He came, he spoke, but he didn't conquer," said Daniel Kurtzer, who served as ambassador to Israel under Republican President George W. Bush and ambassador to Egypt under Democratic President Bill Clinton. He is now at Princeton University.

After Netanyahu's address, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would rush to a vote as soon as next week on a bill that would require Obama to submit any nuclear agreement with Iran for congressional approval.

The White House has threatened to veto the measure. Many Democrats dismissed McConnell's announcement as political theatre. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Republicans' "partisan tactics" could mean the bill might never get to Obama's desk.

"It may be a situation where the president doesn't even have to veto it because there are now legitimate questions that are being raised about whether or not it's actually going to even pass the Senate," he told reporters on Wednesday.

The bill was introduced last week by Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, and Senator Robert Corker, a Republican.

On Wednesday, Menendez and nine other Democratic senators released a letter to McConnell saying they objected to his plan to bring the bill directly to the Senate floor for debate and would not support it at least until after March 24.

"There is no reason to rush this to the floor unless you are worried about political points," Menendez told reporters, accusing McConnell of "hijacking" the bill.

Iran and international negotiators have set deadlines of late March to reach a framework agreement and June for a comprehensive final settlement to curb Iran's nuclear programme to ensure it cannot develop an atomic bomb. In exchange, Iran wants crippling economic sanctions to be lifted.

Obama has said the legislation and another proposed bill that seeks to tighten sanctions could endanger the delicate nuclear negotiations if they are passed now.

Republicans have a 54-seat majority in the 100-member Senate but would need 60 votes to move ahead with the bill. If a nuclear agreement is reached with Iran, Congress will eventually have to approve any permanent end to sanctions.

The laws were written to let the president waive them temporarily if necessary for national security, so Obama could back up a nuclear deal with some immediate sanctions relief.

A final deal would have to spell out exactly when sanctions could be lifted permanently. Congressional aides said that could be in one or two years after an agreement was reached.

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