ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And joining us from Capitol Hill is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker. Sen. Corker's committee voted unanimously yesterday for a bill on congressional oversight of the Iran nuclear deal. Senator, welcome to the program.
SENATOR BOB CORKER: Thank you. I'm glad to be with you, and I appreciate the opportunity.
SIEGEL: There's a New York Times headline today that says "Obama Yields, Allowing Congress Say On Iran Nuclear Deal." Is it fair to say that by changing this bill from allowing Congress to reject the Iran deal to allowing Congress just to reject the lifting of congressionally legislated sanctions, that you did some yielding, too, and Republicans did some yielding?
CORKER: No. That's really 180 degrees false. It's always been about congressional sanctions. I think it gave them an opportunity to act as if something substantial had occurred, but this bill - you can go back and look at its initial introduction - has always been about congressionally mandated sanctions.
SIEGEL: Do you accept that that is the limit of congressional say on the Iran deal - that is, congressionally mandated sanctions?
CORKER: You know, I've spent a lot of time talking to people who are what I would call Article 2 thugs, who obviously look at the strength of the executive branch and looked at what our role should be here. In order to keep this, from the very beginning, a pure bill, if you will, we had to respect the fact, in my opinion, that the president has the ability on his own accord to deal with the UN Security Council sanctions.
As our chief executive, I felt like he had the authority to deal with the executive sanctions that he put in place, again, under Article 2. But if you - as you know, four times since 2010, Congress has put in what's called congressionally mandated sanctions. As part of that, we gave the president - we gave the president a national security waiver. And so it seemed to me from the very beginning if we stayed in that lane, then we assured ourselves no appropriate push back, if you will, from the executive branch. And that's where we've been from the very beginning. And that's why we were so successful, by the way, in attracting so many senators yesterday and before the vote.
SIEGEL: Conceptually, the administration is pursuing a deal that sets back Iran's nuclear program. In the president's word, it takes the nuclear issue off the table. It doesn't require regime change or human rights compliance or Iran's withdrawal from regional conflicts. Do you accept that kind of limited, unlinked nuclear agreement? Do you see value in that?
CORKER: I do. And, you know, one of the things that I've tried to point out yesterday as we voted on this bill, but also in many of my meetings, is that let's say that the United States - the P5+1 - enter into -get to an agreement that is acceptable with Iran, and these sanctions are lifted over time.
What I've said to folks is that creates a whole arsenal of sanctions that are available to us to deal with issues like human rights, if we so desire, or to deal with ballistic issues or to deal with, you know, other terrorist activities in the region. So look, there's no question that Iran is the biggest exporter of terrorism in the region - no question.
SIEGEL: Someone said that Saudi Arabia gives them a good run in the extremists who've been either schooled there or have been inspired by Saudi-based schools.
CORKER: There's no question that many players have been involved in supporting directly, indirectly or just fomenting in other ways a lot of extremist activities that have wreaked havoc on civilizations there. But at the end of the day, that's why this is so important that we end up with a deal that will stand the test of time. You don't have a country that is exporting terrorism also having a nuclear weapon and also having the hundreds of billions of dollars that would be back in their coffers, if you will, if you lifted sanctions.
SIEGEL: Just one quick question - how close is the deal that you've heard Secretary Kerry describe to a deal that you could vote for and support?
CORKER: Well, you know, it's - as you know, nothing's in writing. It's all verbal. We had a classified briefing yesterday that was not particularly helpful, only because we've been so attuned in talking with people all along. I think the one area that's glaring right now and that they cannot answer is how we're actually going to do with the covert piece appropriately.
SIEGEL: These are the nuclear facilities that we are aware of...
CORKER: That's correct,
SIEGEL: ...And that have been inspected already?
CORKER: Yeah, I don't think that they've come anywhere close to an agreement as how to we have snap access in the facilities where we think covert activity is underway. As a matter of fact, I'm positive that they haven't. And to me, that's going to be the biggest hurdle we have.
SIEGEL: Sen. Corker, thanks for talking with us today.
CORKER: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
SIEGEL: Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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