Senate Dems, GOP Defy White House With Iran-Sanctions Bill

Measure would enforce interim deal with Iran, allow up to one year to negotiate.

US Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, speaks as he introduces Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for Johnson's nomination to be Homeland Security secretary in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
Dec. 19, 2013, 9:20 a.m.

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.

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