The Obama administration this week started its uphill effort to sell the Iran nuclear agreement to Congress, beginning with two of its toughest critics: Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
"Undersecretary [Wendy] Sherman briefed Sens. Schumer and Cotton yesterday, and we remain in contact," said State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke.
Rathke added that Sherman, the lead Iran negotiator at the State Department, talked with Schumer by phone, and met in person with Cotton at the department on Thursday.
The meetings seem to show a real effort on the part of the Obama administration to help convince Congress to support the deal, and avoid taking any steps that might scuttle it.
Cotton has become one of the most vocal opponents of the deal reached on April 2, and has suggested reimposing tough sanctions against Iran until that country agrees to abandon all of its nuclear ambitions. Cotton is unlikely to be swayed, and has vowed to block the deal.
Schumer, who is expected to lead Senate Democrats once Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) steps down in 2017, isn't nearly as hostile toward the agreement. But he still supports legislation that would require Congress to approve any final agreement that's reached later this summer.
The administration has said that bill is a major threat to the agreement, since congressional disapproval would likely signal that Congress is not interested in removing unilateral sanctions against Iran. That, in turn, would likely prompt Iran to balk at living up to its nuclear commitments, since it's keenly interested in making sure economic sanctions are lifted.
Rathke declined to say how Sherman's meetings with Cotton and Schumer went, and said he didn't even have enough information to say if they were cordial or productive.
On Thursday, Cotton indicated he still has significant doubts about the deal, in part because the U.S. and Iran continue to offer wildly different interpretations of what the tentative agreement says:
WH Fact Sheet: "All centrifuges & enrichment infrastructure removed from Fordow & Natanz will be placed under continuous monitoring by IAEA"— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) April 9, 2015
But according to @khamenei_ir: "no unconventional inspection that’d place Iran under special monitoring is acceptable"— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) April 9, 2015