Leahy: Iran sanctions legislation a mistake

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyOvernight Cybersecurity: Guccifer plea deal raises questions in Clinton probe Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise MORE (D-Vt.) warned Sunday that a proposed Senate bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran if talks on a comprehensive nuclear deal failed could jeopardize the very negotiations they are designed to spur.

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“I think that’s a mistake, and I’ll tell you why,” Leahy said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “We have voted for sanctions, very tough, and I have voted for very tough sanctions on Iran. Right now we have P5+1 of the countries working with Iran on this. We have people who have joined us on the sanctions. If they look like we are prejudging the negotiations, they are going to say: ‘Hey, United States, you are on your own.’”

Leahy was then asked if he agreed with that pursuing the bill was pushing a march to war with Iran. Senior administration officials have warned that if the talks with Tehran fail, the U.S. may be left without diplomatic options in its effort to get Iran to drop its nuclear weapons program.

“I think if we do that, we screw up the ability to have real negotiation,” Leahy said.

The Vermont lawmaker said that Congress could readily impose new punishments if Iran backs out of good-faith negotiations.

“If the negotiations fail — if Iran is seen cheating, we will impose more sanctions in a nanosecond — both the House and the Senate will,” Leahy said. “Don't do it prematurely, because if you're trying to negotiate something, you don't have a third party — in this case, the Congress, coming in involved in that negotiation.”

The bill would impose penalties on banks and companies that help Iran export more oil and blacklist certain Iranian industries if Tehran does not agree to a comprehensive nuclear agreement within the next six months.

More than a dozen Democrats, including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), have signaled their support for the additional sanctions.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated last week that he would hold off a vote on the proposed sanction bill, and the White House has issued a formal veto threat.

“While [the negotiations] are going on and while the legislative process is working forward here, I’m going to sit and be as fair an umpire as I can be,” Reid said.