Republicans vow new Iran sanctions push

Republican senators vowed to launch a new push to slap sanctions on Iran on Thursday after getting briefed by President Obama's top negotiator on the nuclear deal that starts Jan. 20.

The Republicans said Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman failed to assuage their concerns that the administration is willing to give up too much to get a deal. Democrats disagreed.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the Senate needs to vote quickly on a bill calling for new sanctions, if Iran won't sign onto a deal that bans it from enriching uranium within the next six months. He said countries around the world were already sending commercial delegations to Iran and creating a looming threat of new U.S. sanctions would temper their enthusiasm.

“I'm more disturbed now than ever,” he said. “The end-game being contemplated is not even in the ballpark” of what he wants to see.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, said Sherman's briefing created “momentum” for a vote. He suggested scheduling it for July 21 — six months after the deal goes into effect — so as to not violate the spirit of the agreement.

“In this meeting, there was actually momentum towards a way for the Senate — and for the House — to weigh in a way that matters,” he said. “We can almost have more leverage in some ways with a vote prescheduled right now.”

He called it a “very good meeting for those of us who are skeptical.”

Some 59 senators from both parties have endorsed a new sanctions bill. The White House says passing the bill could derail talks and has urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) not to bring up the bill.

Sherman did convince Republicans there was no secret “side deal” with Iran that's being kept secret from Congress, however. Iran's top negotiator reportedly suggested as much in an interview earlier this week.

“She did a good job from her perspective batting down any sense that there's any other agreement,” Corker said. “I think that she would have a vast trust gap built immediately, if there is any other kind of agreement because of the way that she batted that down and absolutely assured that there are no other agreements of any kind, anywhere.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) categorically disagreed with Corker.

“I thought it was a very strong presentation as to why a vote would undermine negotiations,” he said.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said he “completely disagreed” with the Republican assessment that Sherman’s briefing created momentum for a sanctions vote. He said he thought Sherman made a persuasive case, and he did not want a vote.

“I’m on the side of the president,” Johnson said.

Levin said Congress shouldn't dictate what's in a final agreement, calling it “interference in an executive function.”

“We shouldn't be able, I don't think, to dictate the terms,” he said.  “I don't think we should prejudge what's in a final agreement. We should express our opinion about what ought to be in the agreement; that's traditional and appropriate.”

He promised most of the agreement would be made public, except for technical details about how the U.N.'s atomic watchdog would conduct its inspections.

“Obviously, if they want to be effective,” Levin said, “they can't tell anybody when they're dropping in.”

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