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Taking Note: Removing Cuba From the List of Terror Sponsors, Finally

Written By wartini cantika on Kamis, 16 April 2015 | 13.25

Photo A vendor in Havana.Credit Alejandro Ernesto/European Pressphoto Agency

There were a couple of questions American officials struggled to answer substantively when they announced on Tuesday that the White House has decided to remove Cuba from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

For starters, what took so long?

"There is no periodic review of state sponsors of terrorism," an administration official said during a conference call with reporters conducted on condition of anonymity. "It's not something we undertake on a regularized basis."

They also were unable to say when Cuba, which has been on the list since 1982, stopped sponsoring terrorist organizations.

"The evaluation of whether a state sponsors terrorism is not based simply on an act of terrorism," an official said, dodging the question. "It is sustained support for international terrorism."

American officials have cited Cuba's past support for ETA, a Basque separatist group that is no longer operational, and Colombian guerrilla groups, as justification to keep them on the list. For several years, though, Cuban officials have maintained publicly and emphatically that they don't condone or support acts of terror. In recent years, Cuba has hosted peace talks between the Colombian government and the country's largest guerrilla group.

Removing Cuba from the list represents an important step toward normalizing relations between Havana and Washington. Barring congressional intervention, which seems unlikely, Cuba will be removed from the list within 45 days. That will allow the White House to formally eliminate one set of economic sanctions imposed on the island.

That would leave only Sudan, Iran and Syria on the list. The step is welcome, if overdue. Designations that subject countries to economic sanctions ought to be reviewed periodically and carefully. Keeping Cuba on the list for years without due cause allowed Havana to portray itself as a victim and Washington as a bully.

Closing that chapter will make it easier for American and Cuban officials to open a dialogue about human rights and personal freedoms, two areas where the Cuban government is richly deserving of criticism.


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Editorial: Total Failure on Speedy Trials in New York

Photo View from a cell at Rikers Island. Credit Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The outrageous delays in New York City's criminal justice system were given a human face last year, when Jennifer Gonnerman, writing in The New Yorker, introduced readers to Kalief Browder, who was 16 when he was arrested in 2010 for a robbery he says he did not commit.

He was held for three years without trial on Rikers Island before the case was dismissed. His court dates were changed again and again and again while he was in jail. Over the years, he was battered by guards, sent to solitary confinement and eventually tried to hang himself.

Throughout the hugely inefficient system, delays are routine — caused by everything from scheduling conflicts among prosecutors and defense lawyers to failure of witnesses to show up and too few judges to hear cases.

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke apologetically of Mr. Browder's case this week when he and the state's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, unveiled a plan that is intended to shorten court delays, cut the jail population and prevent people from being held, sometimes for years, without trial. As of last month, more than 400 people at Rikers had been locked up for more than two years without being convicted of a crime, according to a report on Tuesday in The Times by Michael Schwirtz and Michael Winerip.

The plan can succeed only if judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, corrections officials and other participants in the justice system stop blaming one another for court delays and work closely together to do away with them.

The justice system plan announced this week by Mr. de Blasio and Judge Lippmann calls for judges to prioritize the cases of the 1,500 or so people who have been held for more than a year without being convicted. The goal is to resolve half of those cases within six months. Cases that cannot be disposed of by plea bargain will be assigned a fixed trial date.

For this to work, corrections officials need to get inmates to court at the appointed time and police officers need to show up in court on time. Instead of seeking adjournments and delays, defense attorneys and prosecutors must be prepared and ready to proceed.

Judges who now permit too many unjustified adjournments will need to change the way they run their courtrooms.

Under the plan, each borough will have a dedicated team, led by the county's administrative judge, that will work with operations experts to figure out the causes of court delays. The teams — which will include members from City Hall, the district attorneys' offices, the defense bar and the police — will also monitor progress made on old cases and develop reforms that shorten processing times.

These teams may need to recommend changes to court hours in some places, and should seriously consider putting courtrooms on Rikers Island itself. A separate citywide body will be responsible for putting recommendations into action.

Meanwhile, too many poor defendants can end up waiting in jail for months because they cannot afford bail. State lawmakers could help by changing the bail system and creating a presumption of release for low-level offenders who present no risk to the public. A bill pending in the Legislature, and introduced by Judge Lippman, would address this problem.

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Taking Note: The Retro Futurism of Marco Rubio

Photo Senator Marco Rubio with his wife, Jeanette, and their four children.Credit Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Marco Rubio announced his presidential campaign on Monday evening in Miami, in a speech that was supposed to be all about the future, about the 21st century, about the triumph of young energy over old ideas.

In other words, as they said back in 1992, Bill Clinton's day: Don't stop thinking about tomorrow. Don't stop – it'll soon be here!

Yes, it will. But will it be better than before? Mr. Rubio insisted that it would, with a disdainful remark about his elder rival Hillary Clinton: "Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday. But yesterday is over, and we are never going back."

While he was saying that I was looking over Mr. Rubio's shoulder, at his campaign logo. "Marco Rubio: A New American Century" has a 48-state map of the United States dotting the "i" in "Rubio." It's too bad for Alaska and Hawaii, but that's the map you have to use if you're going to turn the country into a graphic element.

It's the map from 1958, which, on reflection, seems to be pretty close to the era on which Mr. Rubio, for all his talk about looking forward, was trying to pin the country's hopes and dreams.

His speech was mostly an anthology of Republican applause lines – pro-God and liberty, anti-tax and anti-Obama — grafted onto a gauzy recollection of his family's story and his humble roots as the son of a bartender and maid. When he talked about a country that "no longer graduates students with mountains of debt and degrees that do not lead to jobs, and that graduates more students from high school ready to work" – that was definitely the late '50s he was summoning. It was the time when women's reproductive rights were not protected, when universal health care was a liberal fantasy, and when nobody, but nobody, thought of "being passive in the face of Chinese and Russian aggression."

There was more in that vein, but, to be fair, it was just one speech with an unfortunately faulty theme. (Not as flawed as Senator Ted Cruz's campaign announcement, where he oddly and endlessly channeled John Lennon.) Mr. Rubio looked young and nervous, as if he were running for high school class president, and seemed utterly relieved to get to the end, when he could do the (very, very dated) political ritual of the song-plus-the-wife-and-kids-waving-at the-crowd, with everything but the balloons.

Mr. Rubio gave a canned speech, trying, with the canny desperation of an ad campaign from the "Mad Men" era, to inject some freshness into a tired, wrinkly G.O.P. brand. For that he deserves some credit, at least. He does not seem driven by an unseen madness, as many in his party are. And he has been courageous before, when he helped to draft a sensible immigration law that enraged his party's nativists. Mr. Rubio has spent years trying to live that down, to deny that he was once smart, thoughtful and sensible on immigration. In the months to come, on that issue and so many others, Mr. Rubio may be scrambling to find a message that sells and an identity that fits in a party that has lost its mind. Here's hoping that when his head finally stops spinning, it's facing forward again.


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Taking Note: Harry Reid Jabs His Adversary

Photo Senator Harry Reid.Credit Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader, was an amateur boxer in his youth, so he should know about haymakers. He directed one at Senator Mitch McConnell Wednesday when, criticizing the Kentucky Republican's fierce dedication to the coal industry, Mr. Reid concluded, "I don't mean to be mean-spirited, but he is a lump of coal."

There was no immediate comment or comparable name-calling from the courtly Mr. McConnell, the Senate's majority leader. But there seemed a decided air of freedom to Mr. Reid's feistiness now that he has announced plans to make this fifth term his last and exit the Senate next year.

What does he think of the crowded lineup of Republican candidates for President? "You know, I don't really care. I think they're all losers," the senator answered John Harwood of CNBC.

Referring to Mr. Reid's accident during a home workout in which he damaged his sight in one eye, Mr. Harwood told the senator, "In the last few days a bunch of people are saying, 'Reid, he didn't have an exercise accident. He got beaten up by the mob.'"

Mr. Reid easily bobbed away from that one, blaming right-wing radio polemicists. "How could anyone say anything like that?" said Mr. Reid. "I think a lot of people, as I read, they kinda don't like me as a person, and I think that's unfortunate."


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Op-Ed Columnist: What’s Up With You?

While U.S.-Iran relations are taking up all the oxygen in the room these days, and they're vitally important for the future of the Middle East, U.S.-China relations are vitally important for the world — and there's more going on there than meets the eye. The concept of "one country, two systems" was invented to describe the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China. But here's the truth: the American and Chinese economies and futures today are now totally intertwined, so much so that they are the real "one country-two systems" to watch. And after recently being in China to attend the big Boao Forum on Hainan Island, and hearing President Xi Jinping speak, what is striking is how much each side in this relationship currently seems to be asking the other, "What's up with you?"

Both countries almost take for granted the ties that bind them today: the $600 billion in annual bilateral trade; the 275,000 Chinese studying in America, and the 25,000 Americans studying in China; the fact that China is now America's largest agricultural market and the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt; and the fact that last year Chinese investment in the United States for the first time exceeded American investment in China.

But dig underneath and you find these two systems increasingly baffled by the other. Chinese officials still have not gotten over their profound shock at how the United States — a country they took as an economic model and the place where many of them learned capitalism — could have become so reckless as to trigger the 2008 global subprime mortgage meltdown, which started the trope in China that America is a superpower in decline.

Chinese officials were also baffled by an effort by President Obama's team to resist China's establishment of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, by lobbying our biggest economic allies — South Korea, Australia, France, Germany, Italy and Britain — not to join. While the Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, kept stressing publicly, and responsibly, that the only American concern was that the bank operate by international standards, other Obama officials actively pressed U.S. allies to stay out. Except for Japan, they all snubbed Washington and joined the Chinese-led bank. The whole episode only empowered Beijing hard-liners who argue that the United States just wants to keep China down and can't really accommodate it as a stakeholder.

Americans, though, are asking of President Xi: "What's up with you?" Xi's anti-corruption campaign is clearly aimed at stifling the biggest threat to any one-party system: losing its legitimacy because of rampant corruption. But he also seems to be taking out potential political rivals as well. Xi has assumed more control over the military, economic and political levers of power in China than any leader since Mao. But to what end — to reform or to stay the same?

Xi is "amassing power to maintain the Communist Party's supremacy," argued Willy Wo-Lap Lam, author of "Chinese Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping: Renaissance, Reform or Retrogression?" Xi "believes one reason behind the Soviet Union's collapse is that the party lost control of the army and the economy." But Xi seems to be more focused on how the Soviet Union collapsed than how America succeeded, and that is not good. His crackdown has not only been on corruption, which is freezing a lot of officials from making any big decisions, but on even the mildest forms of dissent. Foreign textbooks used by universities are being censored, and blogging and searching on China's main Internet sites have never been more controlled. Don't even think about using Google there or reading Western newspapers online.

But, at the same time, Xi has begun a huge push for "innovation," for transforming China's economy from manufacturing and assembly to more knowledge-intensive work, so this one-child generation will be able to afford to take care of two retiring parents in a country with an inadequate social-safety net.

Alas, crackdowns don't tend to produce start-ups.

As Antoine van Agtmael, the investor who coined the term "emerging markets," said to me: China is making it harder to innovate in China precisely when rising labor costs in China and rising innovation in America are spurring more companies to build their next plant in the United States, not China. The combination of cheap energy in America and more flexible, open innovation — where universities and start-ups share brainpower with companies to spin off discoveries; where manufacturers use a new generation of robots and 3-D printers that allow more production to go local; and where new products integrate wirelessly connected sensors with new materials to become smarter, faster than ever — is making America, says van Agtmael, "the next great emerging market."

"It's a paradigm shift," he added. "The last 25 years was all about who could make things cheapest, and the next 25 years will be about who can make things smartest."

President Xi seems to be betting that China is big enough and smart enough to curb the Internet and political speech just enough to prevent dissent but not enough to choke off innovation. This is the biggest bet in the world today. And if he's wrong (and color me dubious) we're all going to feel it.

Correction: April 16, 2015

Thomas L. Friedman's column on Wednesday misspelled the location of China's annual Boao Forum on Asia. It is on Hainan Island, not Hainin Island.

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Opinionator | Disunion: What Lincoln Left Behind

Written By wartini cantika on Rabu, 15 April 2015 | 13.25

Photo Abraham Lincoln's gloves, stained with his blood.Credit Annie Leibovitz/Contact Press Images from "Pilgrimage"

Disunion follows the Civil War as it unfolded.

John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater, in Washington, on the evening of April 14, 1865, and within hours, telegrams and newspapers began to deliver the news around the country. As horrible as Lincoln's murder seems to us today, it is hard to fathom just how earth-shattering it was for many people at the time. It was shocking enough that this was the first presidential assassination in American history. But it also came at a moment — less than a week after Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox — when Americans were either celebrating victory or despairing at defeat.

To Mattie Jackson, a runaway slave, the tidings of Lincoln's death felt like "an electric shock to my soul." Many refused to believe it. "I still think we must be the victims of a gigantic street rumor," a white woman confessed to her mother.

Future disastrous events would bring the disbelieving to radio, television, the telephone and social media, but in the spring of 1865, astounded Americans could confirm reports of catastrophe only by seeking out other human faces.

As soon as Lucy Hedge saw the headlines, she dressed and left her New England home to walk through the streets, where, she wrote later, "gloom and dismay were pictured upon every countenance." In Louisville, Ky., "distress was visible in every colored person's face," said one observer, while in New York, a weeping white man made his way to Wall Street to join "the crowd with sad and horror-stricken faces."

With so many mourners looking into one another's eyes, Lincoln's opponents had to be on guard, for no exhibition of glee among defeated Confederates would be tolerated. In Richmond, Va., the captured Confederate capital that Lincoln had visited a little over a week earlier, "Each man looked sharp at those who passed him," a Northern missionary wrote to his father.

Many Confederates stayed out of sight — but not all. Some dared to clap or cheer in public, and on Bienville Street in New Orleans, a white man taunted grieving African-Americans by pointing to a newspaper headline about the assassination and, one black woman recalled, "poking his tongue out."

Soon, though, came a shift. Whereas the bereaved at first sought confirmation in as many faces as possible, before long their attention was riveted on a single face: that of the murdered president. On April 18 Lincoln lay in state, inside a walnut coffin resting on a towering and lavishly decorated catafalque, in the East Room of the White House. The funeral took place the next day, and the day after that the body again went on display, this time in the Capitol rotunda. Thousands filed by. What better proof of the appalling turns of events?

From the capital, the body of the slain president traveled for two weeks, across nearly 1,700 miles, with elaborate ceremonies in 11 cities. Everywhere visitors were overwhelmed by the "rush and jam" to see the body, as guards kept the congested lines moving so rapidly that "it was impossible," one spectator protested, "to obtain a satisfactory view." Mattie Jackson, for one, knew that she would not be "convinced of his death" until she "gazed upon his remains."

Yet the ritual viewing of Lincoln's body — and his face — proved troublesome. When mourners did catch a glimpse of that singular visage, many were disappointed. To one, "his whiskers being shorn off made his face look small"; to another, "the expression was wanting."

With embalming still a rudimentary science, people felt let down by the physical diminishment that came with decay. By the time Lincoln's body got to Chicago, it seemed to one mourner that he "did not look as they fancied great men did." The lifeless face simply could not live up to visions of the exalted commander in chief. A man who had stepped out of the snaking line in Philadelphia chose instead to "remember Mr. L. as I saw him in Trenton, with that bright smile playing in his face," an image far more memorable than "the set features of a corpse."

Even after Lincoln's burial in his hometown, Springfield, Ill., on May 4, some still could not entirely grasp what had happened. Many turned to artifacts — pasting headlines into scrapbooks, collecting commemorative photographs — in an effort to come to terms with the unfathomable.

Marian Hooper traveled from Boston to Washington in late May, making her way to the boardinghouse across the street from Ford's Theater, to which the fatally wounded president had been carried on the night of April 14, and where he had remained unconscious in a cramped back bedroom until he died the next morning. The blood-soaked pillow, "left just as it was on that night," she wrote home, was "a painful sight, and yet we wanted to see it." And why? Because, she explained, "it makes it so vivid."

As the war had ground to an end, Lincoln's mourners could comfort themselves by believing that their president would guide them through the aftermath of the conflict. Now he was gone. Even as the bereaved yearned for visual evidence to help them absorb the cataclysmic truth, all Americans would long continue to ponder the fate of the nation, and what might have been different, had Lincoln lived.

Martha Hodes is a professor of history at New York University and the author, most recently, of "Mourning Lincoln."


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Editorial: Justice for Blackwater Victims

Photo Mohammed Hafiz with a photo of his son, who was killed in the Blackwater shooting. Credit Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press

For years, it seemed inconceivable to Iraqis that the American justice system would ever punish the private security contractors who wantonly opened fire in a busy Baghdad traffic circle in September 2007, killing 17 civilians.

Yet, on Monday, a judge in Washington imposed lengthy sentences on four former employees of the notorious security firm then known as Blackwater. These men, who came to embody the American government's often heavy-handed and at times careless conduct during the Iraq war, asked for leniency but were defiant in asserting their innocence. Judge Royce Lamberth of Federal District Court sentenced one of the men, Nicholas Slatten, to life in prison. The other three, Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty, were sentenced to 30 years in prison. Mr. Slatten, who was the first to open fire that day, was convicted of murder. His former colleagues were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and of using a machine gun to commit a violent offense.

The sentences represented a victory for the Justice Department, which faced a litany of setbacks and challenges over the years as it struggled to make sense of the events of that day and gather evidence that could be admissible in court.

"What happened on Sept. 16, 2007, was nothing short of an atrocity," T. Patrick Martin, one of the prosecutors who handled the case, said Monday.

The team of F.B.I. agents and federal prosecutors who oversaw the case should be commended for their perseverance. In 2009, a judge dismissed the initial set of charges filed against five Blackwater guards because the case had relied on affidavits the men submitted shortly after the massacre, having been promised immunity. That could have ended the legal proceeding. But prosecutors managed to build a case in 14 of the deaths relying on the testimony of Iraqi witnesses and former Blackwater guards, including one who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and has yet to be sentenced.

The Nisour Square massacre was among the most abominable abuses committed by Americans during the Iraq war. Shortly after the shooting, the company changed its name to Xe Services, as though a new brand could wash away its blood-soaked past. The State Department continued doing business with the company, which provided security to American diplomats and intelligence personnel and had won more than $1 billion in government contracts.

The abusive conduct of many Blackwater guards, and the sense that Washington condoned it, fueled the notion that Americans regarded Iraqis as dispensable. That view became widespread, lending legitimacy to Sunni and Shiite extremist groups that killed and maimed thousands of American troops.

The legacy of the United States' war in Iraq will be forever tarnished by the haunting images of torture at Abu Ghraib prison that emerged in 2003 and the massacre of civilians in Haditha by American Marines in 2005. By bringing some of the Blackwater gunmen to justice, the American government has taken an important, if belated, step toward making amends.

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Contributing Op-Ed Writer: Günter Grass’s Germany, and Mine

FOR years I was frustrated, and a bit embarrassed, to admit that I didn't much like the work of Günter Grass, the Nobel Prize-winning author who died Monday. He was, after all, Germany's most acclaimed writer of the postwar era — not just our national poet, but for many Germans, our conscience. Yet he did not speak to me.

His novel "Crabwalk," published in 2002, was the first book I felt I didn't have to finish. I was angry with myself. I took pride in finishing every book I started, and here was a novel I should have found impossible not to like: It dealt with memory, and the Nazis; it used the metaphor of the crab's gait to show how Germans had to go backward to turn forward, not only with regard to what they had done as Nazis but also what the war had done to those who weren't Nazis — and to their children, to people like me.

Yet his work didn't work on me. The best explanation I could give myself back then for giving up on him was that I simply didn't like his style.

Photo Günter Grass Credit Michael Gottschalk/Photothek, via Getty Images

I was able to pinpoint my frustration only when I met Mr. Grass in person. A couple of months ago he came from his home in Lübeck, on the Baltic coast, to visit my newspaper's office in nearby Hamburg. The conference room was packed: Everyone — editors, assistants, interns — all crowded in to see this living legend. Although I'm sure I wasn't the only one with mixed emotions about the man, the atmosphere was one of near complete adoration. It was the kind of secular worship that I expect no younger author will ever experience, even if he or she wins a Nobel.

Dressed in a red wool sweater and a thick tweed jacket and sipping white wine, Mr. Grass spent most of the time talking about himself, and how much his work as a public intellectual had influenced our paper, Die Zeit. The longer he spoke, the more clearly I felt what had always made me uneasy about him. And not just him, but the entire class of older left-wing German intellectuals that he represented.

Your generation has had it pretty easy, I wanted to blurt out. You grew big in times when strong ideology and determined judgment counted more than the hard work of examining what is actually going on around us. The way you saw the world counted more than the way it actually was. And there was always a lot of self in your righteousness.

Today we know that ideologies aren't realities. Writers and intellectuals don't have that crutch; what is demanded of them, in the first place, is not moral judgment, but clearheaded analysis of our ever-accelerating world. Only in your time, Günter Grass, could you become a moral authority. Today, you would never make it.

I wanted to say all of this, in front of my enraptured colleagues. But I didn't dare.

Someone once said that the days in which politicians decided the fate of entire nations over a glass of whiskey are gone. But so are the days when writers could sit down and divide the world into good and evil through the haze of a tobacco pipe, as Mr. Grass and other members of Gruppe 47, a writers' group formed to renew German literature, did so famously in the 1950s and '60s.

To say that this is a healthy development does not mean to slight their achievement. World War II left Germany without a moral compass; writers like Mr. Grass, Heinrich Böll and Siegfried Lenz provided it. The country needed intellectual leaders who epitomized certainty, however vain they came across.

There are times when moral rigor is needed, but they pass. And yet Mr. Grass was never able to move beyond them. Worse, he seemed to believe that, as the nation's conscience, the rules he applied to others didn't apply to him.

In 2006 he revealed, just before the release of his much-awaited memoir, that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS, the most murderous branch of the Nazi war machine. He maintained that he never fired a shot himself, but nevertheless his confession had a disturbing anticipation of impunity to it. Did Mr. Grass believe that being declared Germany's most important contemporary writer outweighed the fact that he had been active in one of the worst Nazi organizations?

He seemed to take his moral superiority for granted, even as he drifted farther from the mainstream. In 2012 he didn't just publish a poem — "What Must Be Said" — accusing Israel of endangering world peace; he seemed to believe he spoke for all of Germany when he did.

He took the same tone at our meeting in Hamburg, when he accused the European Union and NATO of provoking war with Russia. Sitting face to face with Mr. Grass, I decided to clothe my unease in a question. Did he not think that a war was already going on, sparked by an illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Mr. Grass didn't answer. Instead, he made some broader remarks on Russia and the West. But there was no reason to be disappointed. I felt, clearly, that I came from a different Germany. And that it was all right if he had the impression that I had not spoken to him at all.

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Taking Note: What Equal Pay Day Says About Working Men

Photo  Credit Jim Young/Reuters

An editorial published today in the Times points out that women are typically paid much less than men, no matter their occupation, career attainment or level of education.

The occasion for the editorial is Equal Pay Day — April 14 — the day when working women pause to consider how many more days, weeks, and months they have to work in any given year to make as much as men made in the prior year. Typically, a woman working full time earns about 78 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterparts, not much better than the 74 cents per dollar she earned in 2000 or the 72 cents she earned in 1990.

And now, for more bad news: The main reason that the gender pay gap has narrowed at all over the past decades is that wages for most men have stagnated or declined.

Paying women less than men is a problem in and of itself, and smacks of discrimination in a way that the erosion in men's wages does not. But it is also a symptom of a larger problem, in which businesses have pursued profits by squeezing pay across the board.

Women have borne the brunt of the process. Men in female-dominated professions — like nursing, teaching, customer service and retail sales — typically make more than women in those jobs. But women in male-dominated professions — from chief executives, general managers and software developers to cooks, carpenters and security guards — do not typically make more than men in those jobs.

To achieve parity, the pay of women would have to grow at a faster rate than the pay of men. The overarching fact of the matter, however, is that laws and norms to support decent starting wages, steady raises and profit sharing have been badly diminished over recent decades — along with equal-pay protections — to the detriment of both women and men.


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Editorial: A Reckless Act in the Senate on Iran

Photo Senators Bob Corker, left, and Ben Cardin, the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Credit Win McNamee/Getty Images

Congress has formally muscled its way into President Obama's negotiations with Iran, creating new and potentially dangerous uncertainties for an agreement that offers the best chance of restraining that country's nuclear program.

With a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill that would require Congress to review, and then vote on, the final text of a nuclear deal. It would also prohibit Mr. Obama from waiving economic sanctions on Iran — the crucial element of any agreement under which Iran rolls back its nuclear program — for at least 30 days, and up to 52 days, after signing an agreement so Congress has time to weigh in.

The full Senate and the House will have to approve the bill. But the committee's action gives momentum to those who have bitterly criticized Mr. Obama for negotiating with Iran, though they offer no credible alternative to the preliminary deal on the table. Republicans who control Congress have largely been the driving force behind the legislation, but this bill was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate committee thanks to Democratic support.

Mr. Obama initially threatened to veto the legislation, but he backed off rather than face a bipartisan override of his veto. The administration did get some compromises. The review period was shortened, and language making the lifting of sanctions dependent on Iran ending support for terrorism was softened.

Mr. Obama's acquiescence might be a tactical move. He could veto the congressional vote on the final agreement, which is supposed to be concluded by the June 30 deadline, rather than expending political capital in vetoing this measure if it were to pass both chambers of Congress. But the Senate committee's action puts him in an weakened position as the only leader involved in the negotiations who may not be permitted to fully honor commitments that were made.

The nuclear deal is the product of a multinational negotiation with Iran conducted by the United States, France, Britain, China, Germany and Russia. In no other country has a legislative body demanded the right to block the agreement. Even if Congress barred Mr. Obama from waiving American sanctions, the European Union and the United Nations Security Council could lift the sanctions they imposed, thus undercutting the American decision.

The United States and Iran have been bitter adversaries since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Senate committee's vote will heighten Iranian suspicions and complicate the final stretch of arduous negotiations that are scheduled to resume next week.

Several senators insisted that a vote on the final deal was needed so Congress could fulfill its constitutional duties. But there is no constitutional imperative requiring Congress to insert itself into the negotiations, which are the only effective means to block Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Any final agreement would be a political agreement, which Obama administration officials say does not require congressional action, and it would not be a legally binding document. It would not be a formal treaty, which requires Senate ratification.

Every president has negotiated similar agreements as part of executive authority. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has wrongly and inappropriately diminished the president's power to conduct the nation's foreign policy as he was elected to do.

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