Paul, Flake won't rule out sanctions vote

The two sole Republicans who haven't endorsed a new Iran sanctions bill tell The Hill they could still vote for it if it comes to the floor.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) say they're giving the Obama administration time to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, but their patience has limits.

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“Senator Paul has supported previous sanctions, and believes they have helped bring Iran to the table,” a Paul spokeswoman told The Hill in a statement. “The timing of this vote is important in relation to ongoing diplomatic negotiations is important, and since he can't determine when it will be brought up, he will for now keep an open mind on the bill.”

Flake's office said Congress will need to take action if negotiators don't soon reach agreement on the technical details of the deal reached in Geneva late last year. Implementation doesn't start until then.

“Talks on implementation of the Nov. 24 agreement are ongoing, but time is running out,” Flake's office said. “If Iran is simply using this as another stalling tactic, further congressional action will be warranted.”

A total of 59 senators — 43 Republicans and 16 Democrats — have so far endorsed the bipartisan bill from Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

The bill would slap new restrictions on Iran's energy sector if the country reneges on its commitments under the preliminary deal reached in November or fails to agree to a final deal that bars the country from enriching uranium. The White House says the sanctions could derail nuclear talks and is pressing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) not to hold a vote.

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—This post was updated at 2:50 p.m.