WASHINGTON -- The Senate muscled its way into President Barack Obama's talks to curb Iran's nuclear program, overwhelmingly backing legislation yesterday that would let Congress review and possibly reject any final deal with Tehran.
The vote was 98-1 for the bipartisan bill that would give Congress a say on what could be a historic accord the United States and five other nations are trying to finalize with Iran. Under the agreement, Iran would roll back its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling economy penalties.
The lone "no" vote came from freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who wants the administration to submit any agreement to the Senate as a treaty. Under the Constitution, that would require approval of two-thirds of the Senate.
The House is expected to vote next week on the measure.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement moments after the vote that the "goal is to stop a bad agreement that could pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, set off a regional nuclear arms race, and strengthen and legitimize the government of Iran."
White House spokesman Eric Shultz said Obama would sign the bill in its current form. But Shultz added that Obama has made it clear that if amendments are added by the House "that would endanger a deal coming together that prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that we'd oppose it."
Even if Congress rejects his final nuclear deal with Tehran, however, Obama could use his executive pen to offer a hefty portion of sanctions relief on his own. He could take unilateral actions that -- when coupled with European and UN sanctions relief -- would allow a deal to be implemented.
The United States and other nations negotiating with Tehran have long suspected that Iran's nuclear program is secretly aimed at atomic weapons capability. Tehran insists the program is entirely devoted to civilian purposes.