WASHINGTON – A bill challenging diplomatic efforts with Iran may get a vote on
the Senate floor in January.
The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013
would trigger new sanctions against Iran should negotiations fail to produce a
comprehensive agreement on its nuclear program in six-to-12 months – or should its
government fall short of complying with the technical tenets of a temporary deal
brokered last month in Geneva.
The interim deal, agreed upon by Iran and
the P5+1 powers – the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany –
effectively halts Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez said
his bill honors the efforts of US President Barack Obama to forge a diplomatic
agreement with Iran, and yet holds the international community accountable to
deliver one within the time frame outlined in the Geneva accord.
proposed bill grants the president a year to negotiate with Iran before
sanctions are triggered. Those sanctions include harsh new penalties for
countries still importing Iranian oil, including allies, requiring they cut at
least 30 percent of their purchases within months of enactment.
adversely impact countries previously granted sanctions waivers, such as Japan,
South Korea and China – a member of the P5+1 talks currently supportive of US
One specific provision of the Geneva deal would be undermined, warned the
White House and Iran alike: that “the US administration, acting consistent with
the respective roles of the president and the Congress, will refrain from
imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.”
Regardless of when the sanctions
are triggered, passage of the bill amounts to an action that could be
interpreted as a violation of the agreement. The White House has threatened a
presidential veto should the bill come to pass. It would be this president’s
third veto since taking office.
Since the bill does not become law
without the president’s signature, the White House could argue to Iran that no
meaningful action had been taken. It would then be up to Iran whether or not it
wants to interpret the bill’s passage as a violation of the Geneva provision,
should matters reach that point.
“There is no need for new sanctions
legislation, not yet,” Obama told the White House press corps on Friday, adding
that he would support swift action should talks fail.
aides familiar with the legislation told The Jerusalem Post to expect a vote on
the bill early next year, though the timeline is contingent on the breadth of
support its authors, Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois),
are able to whip over the next several weeks.
Their staffs are expected
to work to compel cosigners over the holiday recess.
“There are many of
us, Democrats and Republicans in this Senate, who believe the best way to avoid
war and get around to give up nuclear weapons is by ratcheting up sanctions, not
by reducing them,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said Sunday on NBC’s Meet
“So we have to be tough. And the legislation we put in says to
the Iranians: if you don’t come to an agreement after six months – and the
president can extend it to a year – the sanctions are going to toughen
Rule 14 of Senate procedure was initiated last week, which is a
point of order to schedule floor debate for a bill. That is the last process
before voting begins.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the ability
to expedite or delay a vote through his control of the Senate schedule. But
facing the possibility of broad bipartisan consensus, the leader might have
little choice whether or not to bring the bill to the floor.
the Obama administration who have spoken with the Post worry that it is a
question of when, not if, a vote will take place.
“The more cosponsors
there are, the higher the likelihood of a vote,” one Senate aide
“Reid will want to wait to see that a large majority of his own
caucus supports the bill – and once that happens, combined with near unanimous
Republican support, it’s hard to see how Reid blocks a vote.”
(D-Nevada) is a longstanding ally of the president, and can be expected to delay
the vote for as long as possible; but Republicans can undermine that effort with
a variety of procedural tools that could threaten other legislative efforts.
They could attempt to amend sanctions on to unrelated bills, and would threaten
to politicize the effort.
“Reid does not want to force Democrats to vote
over and over against consideration of the bill,” one aide
Last week, 10 Democratic senators, including Senate Banking
Committee chairman Bob Johnson, who oversees sanctions legislation in his
committee, urged Reid to avoid scheduling a vote at all costs.
time, as negotiations are ongoing, we believe that new sanctions would play into
the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail,” the
Meanwhile in Geneva, technical talks between P5+1 powers
and Iran, aimed at implementing the first-step deal, were proving more difficult
“Iran and the 5+1 powers must go through talks abroad with
seriousness, precision and with good will,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad
Javad Zarif said on Sunday at a news conference, after three days of technical
“These are not easy talks. The finer details of the
agreements must be considered.”