Corker: Expect Senate to play 'robust role' on Iran

A key senator says the upper chamber could act on sanctions legislation against Iran as early as January, when Republicans take over the upper chamber.

"You're going to see Congress and the Senate play a much more robust role in the first quarter," vowed Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.), who is poised to be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday at the 2014 Foreign Policy Forum. 

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U.S. and Western allies agreed last month to a seven-month extension of talks with Iran in hopes of reaching an agreement to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

Senators from both parties, though, fear that Iran continue its nuclear program and say they will press ahead with sanctions regardless.

Supporters will likely have the 60 votes needed to push sanctions next year, despite the opposition of the Obama administration, which fears legislation could scuttle ongoing negotiations.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the current Foreign Relations chairman, said Tuesday he was working to refine a bill he co-authored with Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkAdvocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student's mid-flight allergic reaction Funding the fight against polio Ex-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby MORE (R-Ill.) and hopes it "could be pursued at the earliest possible moment." 

Their bill would re-impose sanctions that were temporarily lifted on Iran during negotiations, if no deal is reached. 

"After a year of negotiations for which it seems that we have moved towards the Iranians, but the Iranians have made very little progress towards the views that the international community holds ... they need some incentive to move off of their maximalist positions, while we continuously minimize our positions," Menendez told The Hill. 

Corker has also introduced an Iran bill, which would require congressional review and enforcement of any final deal.

He also floated the idea of eliminating the waiver that allows the president to suspend sanctions on Iran.

"We could do away with the national security waivers... so they would have to come back to us for approval," he said. 

National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned Tuesday that placing additional sanctions on Iran would “blow up” negotiations. 

“The international community would blame the United States rather than Iran for the collapse of the negotiations, and the Iranians would conclude that there’s little point in pursuing this process at the negotiating table,” she said at a conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal.

However, Corker said he believed action by Congress would place necessary pressure on Iran, and that he feared the administration has already given up too much in negotiations. 

He fears that the U.S. will roll back demands for a 20-year agreement, to a much shorter term that would allow Iran to be treated as a normal Non-Proliferation Treaty partner, while continuing to develop weapons delivery systems.

Corker warned that if the administration immediately suspends more sanctions on Iran in any deal, Tehran would lose interest in pursuing a permanent lifting of sanctions. 

"Iran is hoping to alleviate sanctions...to be in a position to very quickly move to a nuclear weapon [capability]," he said. "Once [the president] temporarily suspends, a deal is over...It doesn't matter to them whether it's permanent."

This story was updated at 11:26 a.m.