By Kristina Wong - 07/11/14 12:57 PM EDT
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said Friday that Iran is trying to buy time by delaying talks on a deal to curtail its nuclear program.
Negotiators face a July 20 deadline to reach a final agreement, or sanctions lifted last year could be restored. The sides could also extend the talks.
He said Congress should have approved legislation that would have applied sanctions on Iran if it were to walk away from the talks. Royce argued the threat of sanctions would have provided leverage. The Obama administration opposed the effort.
“The very reason we felt the administration — rather than just stop our legislation in the Senate, should have allowed it to go into effect, because then the incentive would be not for the Iranians to have an extension but want to get a deal sooner than later because of the costs on their economy,” Royce said Friday at a breakfast with reporters.
The Royce bill passed last year in the House 400-20 and had the support of 60 senators, but was stalled for a Senate vote by Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) after the administration lobbied against it, saying the punitive move would derail talks.
“Our suspicion was that if the Senate could have taken that up, we would have had the necessary leverage to get the agreement needed, because we would have had the pressure of additional sanctions that would force an agreement that was verifiable,” Royce said.
Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Vienna this weekend to help bridge gaps between international and Iranian negotiators, but experts say an extension of the interim agreement, and more talks, are increasingly likely.
Royce said he would hold hearings on whether the sanctions relief granted to Iran should be continued during extended talks.
“We would have hearings on that, I would consult with [Rep.] Eliot Engel, with other committee members on this subject, we’d have to see the details of what we’re talking about,” he said.