Senate Democrats are drawing red lines on an Iran deal as negotiators race toward a final agreement.
Democrats will be crucial to making sure a deal survives the Republican-controlled Congress, and are outlining what they want to see in any agreement accepted by the United States and its six negotiating partners, collectively known as the P5+1.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said the level of inspections allowed at Iran’s facilities, including military sites, will be the most closely scrutinized aspect of the deal.
"If and when there is a deal, everybody’s going to turn to the chapter on inspections before they read anything else," Kaine said. "I think that is the piece that is of the most significant concern."
Senate Democrats, including Kaine, have called for "intrusive" inspections, something that Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei has suggested he would not accept.
Kaine suggested lawmakers were also concerned about how Iran would receive sanctions relief — another sticking point in the negotiations.
Khamenei wants all sanctions lifted as soon as a deal is signed, but Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that lawmakers "want to see the sanctions relief commiserate with the performance of Iran."
Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that negotiators were hard at work at a final deal, but didn’t specify when the negotiations would wrap up, or if a deal was at hand.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described herself as "worried," adding that "we cannot take a bad agreement."
"A bad quality is no deal," she added. "So the surveillance — the inspections — are very important, the monitoring, the movement to reduce the [nuclear] materials."
Senators are also concerned about how non-nuclear sanctions will play into an agreement, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added.
"The sanctions on non-nuclear issues would remain in place, and I think that’s important to many of us," he said. "We commit to removing the nuclear-related sanctions, but we don’t forgive all of Iran’s other activities in one fell swoop."
Iran has reportedly insisted that a United Nations arms embargo be lifted as part of the nuclear pact, a controversial step that the United States and other negotiating partners have balked at.
Cardin said the issue should be kept out of the talks, arguing that including the arms embargo "would distract" negotiators from the core issues.
"That’s something that should not be part of these discussions," he said.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) added that on a final deal, "I think inspections are important. I think verification is important."
One wild card for Democrats could be Sen. Charles Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat. The New York senator, who is widely expected to be the next Democratic leader, has remained tight-lipped about where he stands.
"I think some say already they aren’t against it. They are some that say already they’re for it," he said. "I think both are premature. ...I’m going to wait to see the plan."
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who has been a leading Democratic critic on the administration’s handling of Iran, is also playing coy on how he’ll come down on a final deal.
"I’m sure that if it’s a bad agreement, I would expect Sen. Schumer to be with me," he said. "If it’s a good agreement I would expect to be with him in support of the agreement.”
Either way, it is certain that lawmakers will have 60 days, instead of the original 30 days, to review and vote on a final deal because negotiators missed the initial July 9 deadline.
Opponents of the deal could use the extra time to try and mobilize their forces, but Democrats dismissed the notion that an extra 30 days would make much of a difference.
"I never thought that was a big issue," Cardin said, adding that if lawmakers can get a deal in the next few days "I think most of our work will be done before the August recess."
The Hill – July 9, 2015