WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that Iranian
officials must be laughing at the US Congress after partisan differences once
again scuttled a sanctions bill.
“They’re laughing at us,” Reid, a
Democrat, said after Republican members objected to the bill on the grounds that
the language wasn’t tough enough and that they had not been given more than a
few hours to review it.
“Here’s the United States Senate quibbling over a
sentence,” Reid said.
The two sides traded accusations over who was
stalling approval of the package, which would close loopholes in sanctions laws
and look to further limit Iranian oil and tanker activities, as well as impose
additional penalties on financial institutions and satellite companies involved
in sanctionable activities.
Members of both parties, however, stressed
the bipartisan support enjoyed by further sanctions on Iran. Republicans
suggested that their concerns could quickly be addressed, allowing another vote
later Thursday or early next week, though the bill was already blocked once in
March and the differences were not fully resolved in the intervening
The US House of Representatives has already passed its own
measure, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has sent a
letter to the Senate on the importance of passing its version of the legislation
“as rapidly as possible.”
Congress had been aiming to approve the bill
before the next round of talks over Tehran’s nuclear program begins in Baghdad
on May 23.
“Time is of the essence,” declared Robert Menendez (D-New
Jersey), who has been championing the bill. “We must send to the Iranians a
clear message that you cannot just forestall negotiations and have negotiations
thinking that you are buying time. We must show them that notwithstanding their
intentions to buy time, there are consequences.”
An aide to a Republican
senator also involved in the issue said that the Senate wants to send a message
to Iranians who hope engaging in talks will easily gain them relief from
“We’re sending a signal to the Iranians that unless we see a
halt to all enrichment activities, we’re coming at you with another sanctions
bill,” he said.
In the House on Thursday, the full appropriations
committee passed the foreign operations budget, which includes $3.1 billion in
military assistance to Israel.