It is a mistake to assume that the Administration will have a free hand in implementing whatever sanctions relief it may have committed to in any final nuclear agreement with Iran. The congressional review legislation that the Administration has agreed to provides that any measure of “statutory sanctions relief” if no joint resolution of disapproval is enacted must be “consistent with existing statutory requirements for such action.”

While the legislation contains no definition of the term “statutory sanctions” for these purposes, all sanctions against Iran are presumably based on statutory law of some kind. Many of these statutes, moreover, contain various reporting and certification requirements as a condition precedent to the waiver of sanctions. Many also provide waiting periods before a waiver can be effective. The review legislation, therefore, preserves the basic architecture of existing sanctions against Iran. The review legislation further states a sense of the Congress that sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses and ballistic missiles will remain in place notwithstanding any nuclear agreement with that country.

Thus, not only will the Administration have to disentangle the bases upon which various sets of sanctions against Iran rest, it will not be able to act under any agreement with Iran without complying with the timing and other limitations that relevant statutes may place on its ability to provide the relief to which it may have committed. Figuring out which statutes apply to any given course of action, moreover, will be difficult because so much in the fabric of the sanctions against Iran reflects intertwined objectives.

As previously pointed out, for example, the core sanctions against Iran that appear in the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations cite a number of different statutory bases for their authority and, according to an explanatory preamble in the Federal Register, are based on various “actions and policies of the Government of Iran, including its support for international terrorism, its efforts to undermine the Middle East peace process, and its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.”

The Administration’s acquiescence to congressional review of any final agreement with Iran means that congress will be involved one way or the other in the negotiating process. That may have been inevitable anyway given what is at stake, but congressional involvement will now be enshrined in law.

The initial review process, moreover, is not the end of it. Every 90 days, the President must certify that Iran is living up to the agreement. If he does not do so, the legislation provides for legislation reinstating whatever sanctions have been lifted.