A bipartisan group of 26 senators unveiled Iran-sanctions legislation Thursday, despite President Obama repeatedly asking the Senate to hold off further action while Secretary of State John Kerry negotiates with Tehran's leadership.
The move is the latest sign of a growing wedge between Senate Democrats and the White House on Iran. The administration has said that even the introduction of a sanctions bill threatens to undermine the negotiations.
But the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act also puts Senate Republicans in an awkward position. The measure would enforce the interim nuclear agreement announced with Iran, meaning Republicans are in essence giving their blessing to the preliminary agreement—which they've heavily criticized—by sanctioning it with the force of legislation.
The bill essentially codifies the interim agreement announced with Iran last month, at first giving the president an initial six months to ease economic sanctions while negotiating a comprehensive deal, then allowing the president additional flexibility to have up to a year to negotiate with Iran while sanctions were eased.
If Iran failed to follow the interim agreement, which lays out restrictions on uranium enrichment and centrifuge production, sanctions would go back into effect. Sanctions would also be reapplied if Iran initiated an act of aggression, such as committing a terrorist attack against the U.S. And if Iran fails to reach a final deal, sanctions would also go back into affect.
By Thursday afternoon the bill, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., had amassed more than a quarter of the chamber as sponsors.
The bill would require Iran to strictly adhere to a preliminary agreement reached with the U.S. and other world leaders in November. The legislation requires further reductions in purchases of Iranian petroleum and applies additional penalties to strategic elements of the Iranian economy, to include the engineering, mining, and construction sectors.
"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 press release. "The Iranians last week blamed the administration for enforcing sanctions; now, they criticize Congress. The burden rests with Iran to negotiate in good faith and verifiably terminate its nuclear-weapons program. Prospective sanctions will influence Iran's calculus and accelerate that process toward achieving a meaningful diplomatic resolution."
Kirk added, "The American people rightfully distrust Iran's true intentions and they deserve an insurance policy to defend against Iranian deception during negotiations.... 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."
The legislation is cosponsored by Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Ben Cardin, D-Md., John McCain, R-Ariz., Robert Casey, D-Pa., Marco Rubio, R-Florida, Chris Coons, D-Del., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Mary Landrieu, D-La., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Mark Warner, D-Va., Mike Johanns, R-Neb., Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo.