Iran sanctions fight could move to Defense bill

The fight over new sanctions against Iran is poised to move to the Defense authorization bill that will be on the floor later this month.

The Senate Banking Committee has indicated it will likely wait to move legislation for new sanctions against Iran to see whether diplomatic negations on Iran's nuclear program move forward.

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But senators who are advocating for tougher sanctions say they are planning to push the sanctions measure as an amendment to the Defense bill, which could be on the Senate floor as early as next week.

“If the Banking Committee doesn't move you can bet your life there will be an effort to impose new sanctions,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Tuesday.

Senate Banking Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and other committee members left a meeting with top Obama administration officials last week appearing open to pausing plans to mark-up new sanctions legislation.

Recent negotiations between Iran and six world powers have left both sides optimistic some agreement could be reached. The two sides are meeting again this week.

Defense hawks have expressed skepticism that Iran is serious about making concessions to its nuclear program in order get painful sanctions already in place lifted.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has worked with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on past sanctions legislation, said last week he would consider introducing an amendment to the Defense authorization bill.

The 2012 Defense authorization bill was the vehicle that Kirk and Menendez used to get a previous Iran sanctions measure signed into law.

“I would look for every opportunity as a senator,” Kirk said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters Tuesday that the decision to push new Iran sanctions on the Defense bill was not his, but that he would back it.

“That’s up to others, but I would support it if it was,” McCain said.

Graham said that he would prefer the Banking Committee move the sanctions bill, but said a vote was likely coming either way.

“It would be better for the Banking Committee to lead on Iran sanctions than to do it on the floor, but we’re going to have a discussion and probably a vote on a new round of Iranian sanctions either in the committee or on the floor with the Defense authorization bill,” Graham told The Hill.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who will manage floor debate on the Defense bill, said he was opposed to pursuing a new round of Iranian sanctions at this time.

Levin said he expected an amendment for new Iran sanctions — and all other contentious amendments — would require 60 votes to pass.

“We should explore the possibilities of working out something with Iran,” Levin said. “As skeptical as we are, we ought to explore that without adding to the sanctions that exist.”