WASHINGTON -- The highest-ranking Republican member of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee is accusing Democrats of blocking progress on a bill
that would further sanction Iran for its continued nuclear
"Democrats have procedurally blocked the Senate from taking any
action on Iran this week," Bob Corker (R-Tenn), said in a statement. "As such,
we will closely monitor what happens in Geneva and examine the details of any
The comments politicize an issue often treated as bipartisan on
Capitol Hill. Both Democrats and Republicans have called on the White House to
restrict its concessions to Iran as much as possible in the negotiating process,
and have disagreed only over the timing of the new sanctions language, which
would ruthlessly target Iran's remaining oil exports and access to foreign
Corker's comments come just after a meeting with US
President Barack Obama at the White House, and as a delegation of US diplomats
is in transit to Switzerland, where they will try and cut an interim agreement
with Iran that would include limited sanctions relief.
Obama personally lobbied key members of the
Senate on Tuesday not to move forward with new sanctions legislation against
Iran, just a day before the third round of negotiations were set to begin in
meeting came shortly after Iranian parliamentarians warned that, should new
sanctions proceed through the US Congress
, Iran would pull its diplomats from
the negotiating table.
The long, detailed White House meeting focused on
the technicalities of the prospective “first step” deal being forged in
Switzerland between Iran and the P5+1 – the United States, the United Kingdom,
Russia, China, France and Germany – and not on rising tensions between the White
and Israel’s government over how best to proceed.
underscored that, in the absence of a first step, Iran will continue to make
progress on its nuclear program by increasing its enrichment capacity,
continuing to grow its stockpile of enriched uranium, installing advanced
centrifuges, and making progress on the plutonium track,” White House Spokesman
Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing.
In a prepared statement released
after the meeting, the White House said that the discussion, which lasted over
two hours, had included a lengthy explanation by the president as to why a
six-month interim agreement – temporarily halting key aspects of Iran’s nuclear
program in exchange for marginal sanctions relief – was in the US’s best
national security interests.
“The president noted that the relief we are
considering as part of a first step would be limited, temporary and reversible,
and emphasized that we will continue to enforce sanctions during the six-month
period,” the statement read.
“The president is determined to prevent Iran
from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and firmly believes that it would be preferable
to do so peacefully,” it continued.
“Therefore, he has a responsibility
to pursue the ongoing diplomatic negotiations before pursuing other
According to the statement, Obama “dispelled the rumors
that Iran would receive $40 billion or $50b. in relief, noting those reports are
inaccurate” – a reference to figures first floated by Intelligence Minister
Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, told CNN on Tuesday the amount of Iranian assets that would be unfrozen under the deal with Iran would be less than $10 billion.
"We're talking about a modest amount of money," she said.
Obama injected a note of caution on the prospect of closing a deal with Iran, telling a Wall Street Journal
forum on Tuesday that, "We don't know if we'll be able to close a deal with Iran this week or next week."
After meeting with the president, Senator
Corker implied that any new legislative push was on hold for the time
“Let’s face it,” Corker said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “At the end of
the day, there aren’t going to be new sanctions put in place” before Geneva. And
“Senator [Harry] Reid has filled the tree,” he said, describing the Senate
majority leader’s ability to prevent new amendments from getting floor time for
“Congress has no say on the easing of sanctions,” Corker
added. “The president has full waiver authority.”
Senator Mark Kirk announced Tuesday evening that he will pursue an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act with fellow Republicans this week that would include the sanctions language, bucking the White House. But it's unclear whether Reid will allow that to happen.
One source familiar
with the legislation told The Jerusalem Post
that if negotiators clinched an
interim deal this weekend, progress on the new sanctions bill was “unlikely”
before December of this year – if at all.
But that has not stopped
lawmakers in both chambers from urging the Obama administration to toughen the
deal going into talks on Wednesday.
A bipartisan group of senators, many
of whom met with the president on Tuesday, wrote to US Secretary of State John
Kerry that the deal under consideration in Geneva allowed up to $10b.
sanctions relief – too high a price for too few concessions, they
“While the interim agreement may suggest that Iran could be
willing to temporarily slow its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, it
could also allow Iran to continue making some progress toward that end under the
cover of negotiations,” the senators wrote. “This does not give us confidence
that Iran is prepared to abandon unambiguously its nuclear weapons pursuit
altogether, as it must.”
The group included senators Robert Menendez,
John McCain, Bob Casey and Charles Schumer, among others.
At the House of
Representatives – which already passed its version of the sanctions bill last
summer – congressmen Ed Royce (R-California), who chairs the House Foreign
Affairs Committee, and Eliot Engel (D-New York), ranking member of the
committee, sent a letter to the president on Tuesday cautioning against a deal
that would allow Iran to continue progressing in its nuclear program in any
“Mr. President, the United States cannot allow Iran to continue
to advance toward a nuclear weapons capability while at the same time providing
relief from the sanctions pressure we worked so hard to build, and the
Administration has worked to enforce,” the congressmen wrote.
interview with CNN, Corker said the administration did not see the deal as a
“fait accompli” going into talks, describing the interim agreement as far from
Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman
flew to Geneva on Tuesday to lead the US negotiating team.
meeting on Wednesday will be with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, the
State Department said.
Responding to concerns aired repeatedly and
publicly by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the Geneva deal is shaping up
poorly for Israel, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that it was his
“prerogative” to express his opinion as negotiations continued.
you can both respect concerns and also disagree with them,” Psaki said. “I
certainly don’t refute the notion that there’s a difference of
One of the reasons we’re pursuing this is because of Israel’s
Psaki said that US diplomats entering the third round of talks
were “hopeful about the path forward.”
“There’s either a diplomatic path,
or a path toward aggression.
We continue to believe that,” she said. “If
this does not work, we will be leading the charge for more
Meanwhile, in Tehran, Iranian Jews demonstrated Tuesday
outside a United Nations facility in support of Iran’s declared right to
peaceful nuclear energy, as protected by the Nuclear Non-proliferation
“Jews from all Iranian Jewish communities, especially from
Tehran, will take part in this gathering to show their solidarity with the
Islamic Republic of Iran’s stances in the recent talks, especially the issues
proposed to Group 5+1,” said Siamak Marreh Sedq, representative of the Jewish
minority in Iran’s Parliament, in announcing the rally.
The Post could
not confirm attendance at the rally.
The US notes that the NPT protects
the right of all nations to peaceful nuclear power, but it objects to Iran’s
claim that the treaty protects Tehran’s right to enrich uranium.
Reuters contributed to this report.