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The Day after a Veto Override

by Daniel Zakowski 8-4-15

Six potential outcomes if Congress overrides the Presidents Veto on the


Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
Scenario 1: The current deal is improved
The Administration could return to the negotiating table to strengthen the deal either by changing
the terms directly with Iran or by making new side agreements with the P5+1.
Why might the P5+1 renegotiate the deal?
Undoubtedly, Americas P5+1 partners would not be happy if the deal is rejected by Congress,
but this does not mean that they would refuse to renegotiate.
In fact, the same argument was made in 2011, when Congress acted to sanction the Central Bank
of Iran. At that time, the Obama Administration contended that such a move would upset our
allies and risk breaking up our international coalition, causing damage to the international
economy for which we would be blamed. This letter1 from former Treasury Secretary Timothy
Geithner to the Senate lays out the case that was made at the time. Despite these protests,
Congress moved forward with the sanctions, passing them unanimously. Those sanctions
ultimately pushed Iran to come to the negotiating table two years later.
The international coalition did not crumble instead, when America led, the world followed.
There is no doubt that in the immediate term, a veto override will result in some push back from
our P5+1 partners, but past behavior suggests that in the short to medium term, our allies will
follow our lead.
Why might Iran to renegotiate the deal?
There are clear incentives for the Iranians to continue negotiating, instead of walking away from
the deal. UN and P5+1 sanctions can only be lifted if Iran complies with the deal agreed to by
Congress. Leaving the deal on the table would leave many billions of dollars in unfrozen assets
and serious sanctions in place, which can only be lifted by Congress. Frances top negotiator said
publicly that he believes it is still possible to negotiate a better deal with Iran. 2

https://www.scribd.com/doc/273569439/Administration-Letter-from-Secretary-Geithner-re-sanctions-on-theCentral-Bank-of-Iran
2
http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-07-30/top-french-official-contradicts-kerry-on-iran-deal

Scenario 1A: President Obama renegotiates the deals terms with Iran
Congress has successfully insisted on hundreds of improvements to agreements negotiated by the
executive branch, including the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) and the
Threshold Test Ban Treaty. In most instances over the past 50 years, the Presidential
Administration went back to negotiating partners and obtained better agreement. Even though
SALT II was dropped following revisions from the Legislative Branch, it laid the foundations for
a better deal in the form of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) just a few years later.
Scenario 1B: President Obama improves the environment in which the deal is implemented
President Obama can take a number of actions to address concerns of Congress, without opening
up new negotiations with Iranians.
These actions could include:
1. Exposing secret side deals for public review and discussion
2. Reaching new understandings with European allies to impose specific, pre-determined
penalties if Iran fails to comply, including military force for the most serious infractions

Scenario 2: Current deal goes into effect, with or without American support
A Congressional vote of disapproval would not prevent the deal with Iran from proceeding, but
instead would bar the President from lifting certain unilateral sanctions. It is very unlikely that
the Iranians will walk away from the deal because of Congressional action considering how
much they have to gain from the termination of UN and EU sanctions in the near-term and the
possibility that the President will try to circumvent Congress on U.S. sanctions They are more
likely to abide by the deal and blame the U.S. for standing against the rest of the world.
Its important to remember that the P5+1 would not take action on sanctions relief until the
IAEA has certified Iranian compliance with its initial obligations under the JCPOA, which
probably will not take place until the second quarter of 2016. At that point, the President can
abide by Congress vote or seek to sidestep it, but there will be no practical difference until that
time.
Scenario 2A: President Obama abides by a Congressional vote to continue U.S. sanctions
Even without U.S. sanctions relief, Iran still has quite a bit to gain from P5+1 sanction relief and
will likely comply with the deal to get that relief. By not participating in sanctions relief,
America provides the international community with one final carrot for demanding additional
concessions from Iran in the future.

Scenario 2B: President Obama waives (or does not enforce) U.S. sanctions, sidestepping
Congress
Iran still would have to meet all of its commitments to receive UN/P5+1 sanctions relief. The
next U.S. President will have greater latitude in deciding how to enforce American sanctions, but
its no worse than implementing the deal in full.

Scenario 3: Iran walks away from the deal


Iran will still be bound as a signatory to the NPT and the international community will
continue to have the same range of options for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program as it
does today.
Scenario 3A: The P5+1 also walk away and multi-lateral sanctions fall apart
Even if P5+1 walks away from a deal, dissolving their sanctions regimes, companies in those
countries, and most of the world for that matter, which still want to do business in the U.S. (or
with the U.S. financial system) will not do business in Iran because they would still be subject to
U.S. banking and financial sanctions.
Global sanctions will weaken, but America will be able to maintain significant pressure on Iran
on our own. Since more than 2/3 of Congress will have just voted down the deal, there will be a
strong coalition for leveraging additional sanctions.
Scenario 3B: Iran sprints to the bomb, which leads to a military strike
As Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute makes clear in this article3, a military action in the
wake of Congressional rejection of the deal simply is highly unlikely. Neither President
Obama nor Iran seeks a war at this time.
The Pentagons General Dempsey concurs that a rejection of the deal does not make war more
likely in the Middle East.4 Iran is desperate to receive hundreds of billions of dollars in
sanctions relief and does not wish to endanger the hundreds of billions of dollar it has invested
in its nuclear infrastructure.
A path to war would require Iran to kick out nuclear inspectors and sprint to a nuclear bomb,
behavior which would immediately galvanize the international community to military action of
its own.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry have both repeatedly said that no deal is better than a bad
deal. They must believe that its possible to have no deal and still avoid war.

3
4

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/07/if-the-iran-deal-fails-120247_full.html#.VcBa5BNVikp
https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/29/general-admits-disagreements-white-house-iran/