Why the Iran nuclear deal is likely to survive its hurdles


The nuclear deal with Iran, 20 months in the making, is now done — at least as far as negotiations go. The accord, announced early on July 14, still faces hurdles, although they likely won’t keep the deal from going ahead.

So what happens next?

We read the laws, perused the speeches, scanned the deal, canvassed congressional insiders and Iran experts, and here’s what we found out.

The U.N. Security Council

Action: The U.N.’s sole lawmaking body must now endorse the deal.

Likely consequence: Endorsement.

The five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council — France, Britain, China, the United States and Russia — are among the six, along with Germany, that signed off on the deal. Among the remaining rotating members, only one, Jordan, has expressed skepticism about the Iran talks.

Congress

Action: Congress by law must review the deal, but may not attempt to amend it.

Likely consequence: Disapproval.

Congress, by law, gets the full text of the deal within five calendar days of the agreement, in English, and thanks to an amendment proposed by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in Persian as well. (The English version is already available on the Internet, so this is a formality.) Congress has 60 days to consider a deal and another 12 days to send a joint resolution to President Barack Obama, should it resolve to do so.

“In the coming days, Congress will need to scrutinize this deal and answer whether implementing the agreement is worth dismantling our painstakingly constructed sanctions regime that took more than a decade to establish,” Corker said in a statement. He and his ranking member, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), co-authored the law mandating congressional review.

Leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives could bring resolutions to either approve or disapprove the Iran deal directly to the floor, but that’s unlikely: Lawmakers on both sides have talked up the need to consider closely the 50-page agreement and its 80 or so pages of annexes, so the likelihood is that the agreement will get the committee treatment.

The first hurdle is each chamber’s foreign policy committee, Corker’s and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Cardin said he anticipates a hearing as early as next week.

The overwhelming failure of a vote to approve would not be binding, according to the law, and would allow the deal to go ahead — but it would register as a moral victory for Congress, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a skeptic of some aspects of the deal, told JTA.

It would indicate the intention of Congress to allow a future president to renegotiate the deal, particularly its sunset clauses, which remove restrictions on Iranian nuclear activity after 10 and 15 years.

“That will be a signal that future congresses are not prevented from turning to Iran in years to come and say, ‘No, you cannot have an industrial-size uranium enrichment process after a decade, and all options are on the table to stop you,’ ” Sherman said.

Should Congress consider a resolution of disapproval, there’s a chance that it would not make it out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one congressional insider said. Republicans, in the majority, own 11 of its 21 seats. But among the 11 Republicans are two who have been party outliers — Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — having voted against Iran sanctions in the past.

A source at a pro-Israel group acknowledged that a vote to disapprove could conceivably fail if Flake and Paul voted against it. But Paul was unlikely to jeopardize his bid for the GOP presidential nomination with a vote against disapproval, the pro-Israel source said, and among the 10 Democrats on the committee, at least one, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), was enough of a hard-line Iran skeptic to cancel Flake’s nay vote.

The next hurdle for disapproval would be cloture, the minimum 60 votes needed to end debate, and cloture may be scrapped through a filibuster. Reaching cloture would require a minimum five Democrats, which is not a high hurdle, especially if the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is rounding up votes.

Mark Dubowitz, the director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a group skeptical of the Iran deal that has consulted with Congress and the administration on the agreement, said Democrats should consider how a vote against disapproval could affect their political careers. He noted how votes for the Iraq war in 2003 derailed the ambitions of more than a handful of politicians.

“No member of Congress pays a historical or political price for voting against a massive leap of faith that goes right,” he said. “They pay a huge price for voting for one that goes badly wrong.”

With Republican majorities in both chambers and enough skeptical Democrats, a motion to disapprove will likely succeed.

Veto

Action: Presidential veto and congressional override.

Likely consequence: A veto followed by a failure to override.

Obama said outright on Tuesday, in announcing the deal, that he would veto any resolution of disapproval. Congress then has 10 days to override the veto.

Congress needs two-thirds of each chamber for an override. The 246 Republicans in the House would need 44 Democrats to hit 290, or two-thirds. That’s unlikely: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader known for commanding the loyalty of her caucus, has lined herself up with deal backers in her party and on July 13 described the Iran agreement as “the product of years of tough, bold and clear-eyed leadership from President Obama.”

“The likelihood of Congress stopping this agreement is now low,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a deal opponent, told JTA, describing the agreement as against American national security interests.

Kirk said, however, it does not rule out a congressional role in the future. Down the line, the deal requires Congress to permanently lift sanctions against Iran.

“That’s a nonstarter,” he said. “There are no votes in the House and Senate for that.

Keystone XL likely to pass Senate Thursday, faces Obama veto


The U.S. Senate will likely pass a bill approving the long-pending Keystone XL oil pipeline on Thursday, a measure the White House has said President Barack Obama would veto.

Republicans have made approving Keystone their top priority of the new Congress after winning control of the Senate in November's elections, but they are four votes shy of the 67 needed in the 100-member chamber to override any veto.

Senators are scheduled to vote after 2:30 p.m. EST (1430 ET) following debate on more amendments to the bill that would bypass the Obama administration's review of Keystone.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday that Keystone would be good for the middle class and “pump billions” of dollars into the economy.

But Obama has raised new questions about the number of jobs it would create and said that Keystone would mainly benefit TransCanada Corp, not U.S. gasoline consumers.

While the project would create thousands of temporary construction jobs, a State Department report said less than 40 workers would be needed to permanently operate Keystone XL.

Obama wants the State Department to finish determining whether the pipeline is in the national interest, but backers say the approval process of more than six years has gone on too long. The project would bring more than 800,000 barrels per day of heavy oil from Alberta and light U.S. crude to Nebraska en route to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The House of Representatives has voted nine times to approve the project. Aides to House leaders did not immediately answer questions about whether the chamber would vote to pass the Senate bill or if it would go into conference talks.

Obama is expected to make his own decision on the pipeline soon. The State Department has told other federal agencies they have until Feb. 2 to conclude their assessment of the project.

Even if Obama vetoes or decides against the pipeline, Republicans will keep pushing. Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, a sponsor of the bill, plans to attach a measure to a spending bill or other legislation later in the year that Obama would find hard to veto.

Arizona governor vetoes bill widely criticized as anti-gay


Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a controversial bill on Wednesday that has been derided by critics as a license to discriminate against gays in the name of religion, saying the measure could result in “unintended and negative consequences.”

The measure, passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature last week, would have allowed business owners to cite personal religious beliefs as legal grounds for refusing to serve same-sex couples or any other prospective customers.

But a number of major business organizations and some fellow Republican politicians, including the state's two U.S. senators, had urged Brewer to veto the legislation, dubbed Senate Bill 1062.

“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” Brewer said in a brief statement from her office at the state capitol announcing her decision, to cheers from gay-rights activists rallying outside the capitol.

“I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner's religious liberty has been violated,” she said. “The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments I have vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.”

The announcement came hours after Major League Baseball and the National Football League joined a growing chorus of business organizations denouncing or expressing strong reservations about the legislation.

Echoing calls for Arizona boycotts previously stirred by Brewer's support for tough measures to clamp down on illegal immigration, the Hispanic National Bar Association also said on Wednesday that its board had voted unanimously to pull its annual convention from Phoenix in light of last week's passage of 1062.

The measure gained final approval from the Republican-controlled state legislature last week, putting Brewer at the center of a contentious political debate at a time when she has sought to ease partisan discord while focusing on efforts to revive Arizona's economy.

Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Gunna Dickson, Jan Paschal and Eric Walsh

Israel gets same-sex divorce before same-sex marriage


An Israeli court has awarded the country's first divorce to a gay couple, which experts called an ironic milestone since same-sex marriages cannot be legally conducted in the Jewish state.

A decision this week by a family court in the Tel Aviv area “determined that the marriage should be ended” between former Israeli lawmaker Uzi Even, 72, and his partner of 23 years, Amit Kama, 52, their lawyer, Judith Meisels, said on Tuesday.

Legal experts see the ruling as a precedent in the realm of gay rights in a country where conservative family traditions are strong and religious courts oversee ceremonies like marriages, divorces and burials.

While Israel's Interior Ministry still has the power to try and veto the decision, it would likely have to go court in order to do so, Meisels said.

A 2006 high court decision forced the same ministry, headed by an ultra-Orthodox cabinet member, to recognize same sex marriages performed abroad and ordered the government to list a gay couple wed in Canada as married.

Same sex marriages are performed in Israel, but they have no formal legal status.

“The irony is that while this is the beginning of a civil revolution, it's based on divorce rather than marriage,” newly divorced Kama, a senior lecturer in communications in the Emek Yizrael College, told Reuters.

He and Even, both Israelis, married in Toronto in 2004, not long after Canada legalized same-sex marriage. They separated last year, Kama said.

It took months to finalize a divorce as they could not meet Canada's residency requirements to have their marriage dissolved there. At the same time in Israel, rabbinical courts in charge of overseeing such proceedings threw out the case, Kama said.

By winning a ruling from a civil court, Kama and Even may have also set a precedent for Israeli heterosexual couples, who until now have had to have rabbis steeped in ancient ritual handle their divorces, legal experts say.

“This is the first time in Israeli history a couple of Jews are obtaining a divorce issued by an authority other than a rabbinical court, and I think there is significant potential here for straight couples” to do so as well, said Zvi Triger, deputy dean of the Haim Striks law school near Tel Aviv.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Michael Roddy

N.Y. governor vetoes special ed. bill that would benefit religious children


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for religious students with special needs to receive tuition reimbursements for attending private schools.

Special needs students currently may receive a tuition reimbursement if their local public schools do not provide the services they need, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. Parents must apply for the reimbursement every year and show why the public school is inappropriate for the child, as well as why the chosen private school is appropriate.

The bill that was vetoed Tuesday would have required reapplication for the reimbursement only when students’ needs change, not annually. The bill would have required schools to consider “the school environment” versus the student’s “home environment and family background.”

Haredi Orthodox Jews, as well as Catholics, backed the bill. According to the Journal, Leah Steinberg, special education affairs director for the haredi Agudath Israel of America, called the bill “compassionate.”

Cuomo in a statement called the measure “an overly broad and ambiguous mandate.”

UN report: No consensus on Palestinian statehood bid


The United Nations Security Council could not arrive at a consensus on the Palestinians’ statehood bid, a draft report from the panel reportedly says.

The four-page report by the committee on admitting new member states sent Tuesday to all 15 Security members said, according to Reuters, that the committee cannot make a unanimous recommendation to the Security Council. Reuters said it obtained a copy of the report.

The members are divided into those that support the bid, those who are abstaining because they cannot support it at this time, and those who oppose it on the basis of the application not meeting the appropriate criteria.

It is believed that the Palestinians do not have they nine votes they need in order to have the application approved. The United States has threatened to use its veto should the Palestinians get enough votes.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas applied to the United Nations for full membership for the state of Palestine on Sept. 23.

The Security Council is scheduled to debate the report on Friday, when the report is formally presented.

France won’t vote on Palestinian statehood


France will abstain from voting on whether to admit Palestine as a full member of the United Nations.

The French Foreign Ministry said Friday it sees no chance of Palestine’s statehood request passing the Security Council because the United States, which holds veto power, has already announced it will vote against. The ministry also voiced concern about the violence that might occur if the vote was to fail.

Currently, Palestine is considered an observer entity at the U.N. The ministry has offered to help elevate Palestine’s status to a nonmember state.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told journalists in Ramallah that Palestinians are not interested in anything other but becoming a full member state.

“We do not want, after all these struggles, sacrifices, and efforts by the entire Palestinian people to accept an observer state in the United Nations. We will not accept less than we deserve,” al-Maliki said.

Earlier this week, France voted in favor of Palestine becoming a member of UNESCO, the U.N. scientific and cultural organization.

Canada will not make up UNESCO shortfall, minister says


Canada’s foreign affairs minister said his country would continue paying dues to UNESCO but would not offer the agency any additional money.

John Baird said Wednesday that his government would not offer any additional voluntary payments to help offset the shortfall after the United States withdrew its funding over the U.N. cultural agency’s vote to extend full membership to the Palestinians.

Canada gives nearly $12 million annually to UNESCO. It voted against the motion.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization approved the Palestinians’ bid Monday during its general assembly in Paris by a vote of 107 to 14. The vote activated legislation adopted nearly two decades ago that prohibits U.S. funding to U.N. agencies that accord the Palestine Liberation Organization statehood status.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday that a $60 million payment to UNESCO scheduled for November will not be delivered. The U.S. annual dues to UNESCO comprise more than 20 percent of the agency’s budget.

“The bottom line is there’s going to be a large hole in UNESCO’s budget because of the American law which withdraws funding, and people at UNESCO should not look to Canada to fill that budget hole,” Baird said. “They’ll have to go to the countries who supported this resolution; that caused this budget loophole.”

French Jewish groups call country’s UNESCO vote a betrayal


French Jewish groups said they feel betrayed by their country’s vote in favor of extending UNESCO membership to the Palestinians.

“President Sarkozy broke his word and betrayed the ties of friendship that link France and Israel,” said the UPJF, a Jewish group of business professionals and CEOs, in a statement issued shortly after Monday’s vote.

The UPJF and the Jewish umbrella group, CRIF, both said in statements that France’s position did not correlate with recent declarations by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who argued that the Palestinian bid for membership was premature.

As a result, “France has judicially legitimized an authoritarian, racist regime in an international organism without respecting conditions for admission,”the UPJF said.

The CRIF said it “strongly deplored” France’s vote, which came while “several significant European states voted against” the Palestinian bid.

French officials told reporters that the decision to admit Palestine into UNESCO was a difficult one that was hacked out over the weekend amid stiff tension.

Palestinians plan “other options” if U.N. bid fails


Palestinians want the Security Council to decide on their bid for full U.N. membership soon so they can pursue “other options”, the Palestinian U.N. envoy said, repeating charges that Washington is procrastinating to avoid a vote.

Riyad Mansour, in comments to a Palestinian newspaper, did not say what the Palestinians would do once their bid for U.N. membership reached its conclusion. It is widely expected that the bid will fail because of U.S. opposition.

However, Palestinian officials have said that failure at the Security Council would push them to seek an upgrade in their U.N. status to that of a “non-member state”, something they can secure from the General Assembly without Security Council approval.

The Palestinians currently hold the status of an “observer entity” at the United Nations.

“We are serious about this application and we want it to reach its logical conclusion in the hope that we succeed,” Mansour told Al-Ayyam newspaper in remarks published on Thursday.

“But if we do not succeed, we want this effort to end in a near time frame so we can resort to other options available to us.”

Diplomats at the United Nations said on Wednesday the Palestinian quest was likely to come to a head on or around Nov. 11, when Security Council members plan a final meeting to decide their response.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted the application for full U.N. membership on Sept. 23 in the face of opposition from the United States and Israel.

They accuse him of trying to bypass the two-decade old peace process with moves they describe as unilateral. Washington says the new Palestinian approach will not bring them any closer to their goal of an independent state.

This can only happen through peace talks, it says.

The Palestinians respond that the peace process has hit a dead end and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements threatens to destroy any chance of the establishment of a viable state. Recognition as a state in the U.N. system will level the playing field in future peace talks, they argue.

Recognition as a “non-member state” will pave the Palestinians’ way to membership of U.N. and international agencies to which the Palestinians are currently denied access.

These include the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court, where the Palestinians have suggested they could bring cases against Israel.

Mansour said the United States was attempting to obstruct the application for full U.N. membership, repeating an accusation made by other Palestinian officials.

Washington was using “all means available to it with the aim of obstructing the Palestinian application in the Security Council”, he said.

While the Palestinian application looks certain to fail in the council, Abbas has made a major effort to attract nine votes in support, which would force the United States to use its veto and be seen by the Palestinians as a moral victory.

To pass, resolutions need nine votes and no vetoes.

Washington and its allies have been trying to defuse the diplomatic crisis over the Palestinian U.N. application by trying again to revive peace talks which broke down over a year ago because of the settlement issue.

International mediators will hold separate meetings with both sides next week in Jerusalem, though analysts say there is little chance of a breakthrough because of a chasm between them, particularly over the issue of settlement expansion.

Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Elizabeth Piper

Turkey veto threat nixed Israeli NATO initiative


Turkey’s foreign minister said his country threatened to veto an Israeli initiative in NATO in an effort to hurt Israel in international forums.

Ahmet Davutoglu reportedly told CNN Turk in an interview Sunday that Turkey had threatened to veto Israel’s recent effort to open a NATO office in Brussels as part of the alliance’s outreach to non-member groups through the Mediterranean Dialogue initiative. Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952. Israel joined the Mediterranean Dialogue initiative in 1995 with Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia and Egypt; Jordan and Algeria were added later.

Davutoglu added that the veto threat could change according to political circumstances, according to reports.

Israel withdrew the initiative after the threat, according to the Turkish news service Today’s Zaman. .

The threat comes amid increased tension between Israel and Turkey following Israel’s refusal to apologize for the deaths last year of nine Turkish nationals after Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla ship attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Israel has expressed “regret” for the incident.

Turkish officials have vowed to attack Israel in as many international forums as possible, and Turkey has downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel and cut defense trade ties.

Meanwhile, Israel will remove its police representative in Turkey after a lack of cooperation from Turkish authorities, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told Israel Radio Monday.

Obama, Netanyahu to meet at U.N. in New York


President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are set to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive Wednesday in New York for the General Assembly meeting. He told his Cabinet Sunday that he will meet with Obama, as well as other world leaders, upon his arrival.

White House National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes confirmed the scheduled meeting to reporters over the weekend. Obama is not scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the White House.

Netanyahu and Abbas are both scheduled to address the General Assembly on Sept. 23, after which Abbas said he will submit a bid for full membership for the state of Palestine in the U.N. Security Council.

“The U.N. is not a place where Israel wins praise, but I think that it is important that I go there in order to represent both the State of Israel and the truth—and the truth is that Israel wants peace and the truth is that the Palestinians are doing everything to torpedo direct peace negotiations,” Netanyahu said Sunday.

Netanyahu reiterated that the only way for Israel and the Palestinians to achieve a peace agreement is through direct negotiations. He said that Abbas a year ago had declared a year ago that the Palestinians’ goal was to be accepted as a U.N. member and its attempt “will fail.”

“It will fail because it must go through the U.N. Security Council. Decisions that are binding on U.N. members pass through the Security Council,” the Israeli leader said. “I am convinced that the activity of the U.S., which is deeply cooperating with us, as well as the activity of other governments with which we are also cooperating will result in the failure of this attempt.”

Obama administration would veto statehood bid


The Obama administration said unequivocally it would veto any U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood.

“If any such resolution were put in front of the Security Council, then we would veto it,” Wendy Sherman told the Senate on Wednesday in confirmation hearings for her nomination to become undersecretary of state for policy, the department’s third-ranking position.

Until now the Obama administration has said it strongly opposes Palestinian efforts to secure statehood recognition this month at the United Nations, but Sherman’s was the first indication it would definitively use its veto to quash it.

Sherman said the threat of the Palestinians then taking the matter to the General Assembly for a symbolic but politically potent vote still loomed, and that the United States was still working to get the parties back to the table for talks.

“The General Assembly is still of concern, and so there is very urgent work going on to try to see if there’s not another way forward,” she said.

Abbas rejects U.S. request to withdraw UN settlement resolution


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to turn down Washington’s request to withdraw a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding Israel halt settlement expansion on occupied land.

Several officials close to Abbas on Friday predicted this would be the consensus of a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive later in the day to discuss President Barack Obama’s telephone call with Abbas on Thursday.

Washington has made it clear that it will veto the resolution should it come to a vote, and has implored the Palestinian Authority and other Arab nations to withdraw the proposal, but to no avail.

Read more at Haaretz.com.