WASHINGTON -- Support among Senate members for a new sanctions bill against Iran
has doubled since the measure was introduced last month.
across party lines now co-sponsor the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2013,
according to multiple Senate aides, who expect support to increase in the coming
days. That amounts to half of all Senate members, just one shy of the number
required for a bill to pass.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman
Robert Menendez introduced the bill just before Christmas with 25 co-sponsors.
The move was an affront to the Obama administration, which fears the bill could
derail fragile nuclear talks among Iran, the US and world powers.
enacted, the bill would provide the president with a window of up to a year to
negotiate a final settlement with Iran over its controversial nuclear program.
Iran would also have to comply with an interim agreement forged between its
government and the P5+1 powers— the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China
and Germany— that effectively halts uranium enrichment and construction on its
Arak plutonium reactor in exchange for modest sanctions relief.
Iran fail to meet either of these terms, new sanctions would trigger against the
Islamic Republic that would include harsh penalties for countries still
importing Iranian oil, including US allies, requiring they cut at least 30
percent of their purchases within months of enactment.
One senior Senate
aide told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that a vote is "fully expected" on the
measure, despite suggestions from the White House that the bill would not reach
"We don't think this action is necessary," White House press
secretary Jay Carney said on December 19. "We don't think it will be enacted. If
it were enacted, the president would veto it.”
But another aide familiar with the bill thought a path forward was possible between Senate leadership—including Menendez and senators Charles Schumer and Mark Kirk, who co-authored the bill—and the White House.
"Rhetoric aside, everyone can get something here," the aide told
the Post. "The administration gets up to a year of flexibility to negotiate,
Iran gets its limited sanctions relief and Congress gets the insurance policy we've been
seeking." In the House of Representatives, Republican leadership scheduled floor
time for Iran legislation this month. Democratic whip Steny Hoyer and Republican
majority leader Eric Cantor have jointly written a resolution framed in support
of the Senate measure.
Senator Tim Johnson, chairman of the Senate
Banking Committee, which typically reviews sanctions legislation, said on Monday
that the bill would not proceed through his committee, and would have to take an
alternative route to the Senate floor.
Johnson said he believed warnings
from US Secretary of State John Kerry that negotiations with Iran would
"collapse" if the Senate passed the bill, even if it is "tentative" in