Middle East/North Africa

Top Dems divided on more Iran sanctions

Ten Democratic Senate committee chairmen wrote a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) late Wednesday urging him not to allow a vote on a bill that would impose tougher sanctions against Iran.

“At this time, as negotiations are ongoing, we believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail,” they wrote in the letter, obtained by The Hill.

{mosads}The letter is signed by Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (S.D.), Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (Mich.), Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (Del.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Energy Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (Ore.), and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (Iowa).

Democrats remain divided on this issue, however. On Thursday, 26 senators introduced a bipartisan bill that would impose new and tougher sanctions against Iran.

That move challenges requests by the Obama administration, which says new sanctions threaten negotiations over a final deal with Iran on its nuclear program. 

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introduced the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act,” joined by 24 other senators. 

The measure would implement prospective sanctions against Iran if its government fails to comply with the interim nuclear deal the United States and its allies reached last month. Over the next six months, Iran is required to limit the amount of uranium it enriches and effectively freeze its program.

“Current sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table and a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table,” Menendez said in a statement Thursday. “Prospective sanctions will influence Iran’s calculus and accelerate that process toward achieving a meaningful diplomatic resolution.”

{mosads}The proposed sanctions would require the U.S. to further reduce the amount of petroleum it purchases from Iran, and apply additional penalties to parts of Iran’s economy including its construction, engineering and mining sectors.

The Democratic co-sponsors are Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Chris Coons (Del.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mark Warner (Va.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), and Joe Donnelly (Ind.).

Every Democrat considered vulnerable in his or her race for reelection next year is co-sponsoring this measure, a sign that they want to appear tough on foreign policy.

The Republican co-sponsors are Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), John Cornyn (Texas), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Ted Cruz (Texas), and Roy Blunt (Mo.).

“This is a responsible, bipartisan bill to protect the American people from Iranian deception and I urge the Majority Leader to give the American people an up or down vote,” Kirk said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Reid declined to promise a vote on any bill that would strengthen sanctions against Iran when Congress returns from its recess in January.

The White House and Iran have warned that passing such a bill would ruin talks regarding its nuclear program. Last week, the Senate Banking Committee decided to respect those warnings and not take one up. That committee would normally be responsible for such measures.

The new Menendez-Kirk bill would also require that any final deal with Iran end its ability to enrich uranium. Secretary of State John Kerry has suggested that such a requirement was a nonstarter for Iran.  

“That deal was on the table a hundred years ago,” Kerry testified before the House Foreign Affairs panel last week. “But that deal, I’m afraid, has … been lost.”

“At the end of this, I can’t tell you they might not have some enrichment,” Kerry said, “But I can tell you with certainty it will not be possible for them to be able to turn that into a weapons program without our knowing it … far in advance.” 

The bill would give the administration up to one year “to pursue a diplomatic track resulting in the complete and verifiable termination of Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program.”

Julian Pecquet and Jeremy Herb contributed.

Tags Barbara Boxer Barbara Mikulski Ben Cardin Bob Casey Bob Corker Carl Levin Chris Coons Chuck Schumer Dianne Feinstein Harry Reid Iran Jay Rockefeller Jerry Moran Joe Donnelly John Cornyn John Kerry John McCain Kay Hagan Kelly Ayotte Kirsten Gillibrand Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Mark Begich Mark Kirk Mark Pryor Mark Warner Mary Landrieu Mike Johanns Pat Roberts Patrick Leahy Richard Blumenthal Robert Menendez Ron Wyden Roy Blunt sanctions Susan Collins Ted Cruz Tim Johnson Tom Carper Tom Harkin

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