WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama bowed to pressure yesterday and agreed to sign legislation giving Congress the right to reject any nuclear agreement with Iran.
The White House conveyed the president's decision shortly before Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a compromise version of the measure on a 19-0 vote. It was a sign that Congress would not back down on its insistence that lawmakers must have a say if any final deal with Iran involves the eventual lifting of crippling economic sanctions that Congress levied on Tehran.
The bill is now likely to clear both houses in the Republican-controlled Congress.
Obama had threatened to veto the original bill, but as news of the compromise leaked out on Capitol Hill, the White House abruptly acquiesced. The president, however, still retains the right to use his veto if Congress tries to scuttle an emerging deal with Iran, which is to be finalized by June 30.
"Maybe they saw the handwriting on the wall," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said about the White House decision.
International negotiators are trying to reach a deal that would prevent Iran from being able to develop nuclear weapons. In exchange, Tehran would get relief from economic sanctions that are crippling its economy.
Obama, whose foreign policy legacy would be burnished by a deal with Iran, has been in a standoff for months with lawmakers who say Congress should have a chance to weigh in and remain skeptical that Iran will honor any agreement.
"The administration . . . has been fighting strongly against this," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
"I know they've relented because of what they believe will be the outcome here," he said. "I believe this is going to be an important role, especially the compliance pieces that come afterward."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, "Despite the things about it that we don't like, enough substantial changes have been made that the president would be willing to sign it."
An earlier version of the bill sought to put any plan by Obama to lift sanctions on Iran on hold for up to 60 days while Congress reviewed the deal. The compromise approved by the committee shortened the review period to 30 days. During that time, Obama would be able to lift sanctions imposed through presidential action, but would be blocked from easing sanctions levied by Congress.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who announced his candidacy for president on Monday, had proposed an amendment that would require Iran's leaders to accept Israel's right to exist. Rubio relented, deciding the proposal "could imperil the entire arrangement" and accepted milder language.