Senate passes Iran sanctions bill

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attempted to pass the bill on Thursday by unanimous consent, but Republicans blocked him. The legislation the Senate passed Monday is almost the same as the one Reid tried to pass on Thursday with a few tweaks specifying ways the administration can prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

"This bill is another tool demonstrating to Iran that the U.S. is not backing down," Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said after the bill's passage.

The legislation imposes tougher economic sanctions on Iran in order to discourage its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The legislation also warns that, if necessary, the United States will use force or at least leave "all options on the table" to keep the country from obtaining nuclear capability.

Last week, Republicans raised concerns that the bill was weaker than what President Obama had spoken about earlier this year in his State of the Union address.

“When the Senate failed to pass the sanctions bill last week, I was concerned that the legislation was sending a mixed message to Iran," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who made the primary push for the language change last week.

"However, I am very pleased we were able to strengthen the language in the bill which now sends an unequivocal message to leaders in Iran," he said.

The bill language was changed to say that compelling Iran to abandon efforts to acquire nuclear weapons capability and other threatening activities can be achieved through a comprehensive policy that includes economic sanctions, diplomacy and military planning, capabilities and options that is consistent with the administration's policy.

"The bill clearly indicates that all options are on the table when it comes to stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability," Graham said.

Senate Democrats were hoping to pass the legislation before a P5+1 meeting in Baghdad on Tuesday between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Iran.

On Thursday, the legislation's passage seemed uncertain.

Senate Republicans blocked the bill's passage, demanding that the legislation's language clearly include "use of military force."

The bill also seemed stalled in the Senate due to language that said the bill was not a declaration of war, which was inserted by Democrats, at the behest of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Republicans and Democrats said the language was unnecessary because the president would still have to ask Congress for any declaration of military action, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said. That language made it into the final Senate version of the bill.

"I hope and pray we can end this peacefully for Israel's sake, for our sake, for the world's sake," Graham said.

Even though the legislation passed the Senate ahead of the Tuesday deadline, it still has to be reconciled with a House version before it goes to Obama's desk.

The chamber adjourned shortly after it passed the sanctions bill and will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday to take up a Food and Drug Administration reauthorization bill.

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