Kerry gets his way on Iran

Greg Nash

Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama administration appear to have won a fight with Congress over new Iran sanctions — at least for now.

As Kerry readied to give testimony on Tuesday to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the administration's controversial interim nuclear deal with Iran, core senators said there is little chance Congress would approve new sanctions this year.

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“I'm inclined to support [Secretary of State] John Kerry” and hold off for now, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) told The Hill. “We'll see. Not this year.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an Iran hawk and member of the Armed Services panel, said he was working on a new bipartisan bill but acknowledged it might not be ready until next year, though.

“I'm looking for a sanctions bill to pass either next week or the early part of next year,” he said. 

The administration has warned that new sanctions could undermine the deal with Iran, which has been criticized for allowing that country to continue to enrich uranium. 

It has urged Congress to hold off on mandating new sanctions, and it appears it will get its way.

More hawkish senators had all but given up on passing legislation through Johnson's committee and were instead hoping to do it as an amendment to the pending Defense bill.

Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees poured water on that plan on Monday when they unveiled a joint, bipartisan bill with no sanctions attached and called for a quick vote before the House leaves town on Friday.

Their bill was an initial signal this week that the chances of new sanctions were slim.

Graham said his bill would be “outcomes-based” and provide no flexibility to the White House if it fails to produce a final deal with Iran that meets its strict requirements. 

“At the end of the six months, if [Iran's] Arak [plutonium] reactor hasn't been dismantled — or is in the process of being dismantled — sanctions stay in place,” said the senator, who is up for reelection next year. “If they continue to possess the 20 percent stockpile, the sanctions stay in place. If they're still in the enrichment business, the sanctions stay in place.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has been working on sanctions legislation with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and other members of both parties, said he remains committed to unveiling a new bill soon.

“We’re pushing forward to getting legislation together," Menendez said.

“I respectfully disagree with the administration. We have been, in the past, in the other iterations in which we’ve been told sanctions was not appropriate vehicle or time, we found that it was. And we believe that it is now.”

— Jeremy Herb contributed.