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.

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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 months.

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 sanctions.

“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.