WASHINGTON – Senate leadership will wait for a briefing from the Obama administration on recent developments between world powers and Iran before moving forward with a bill that could trigger new sanctions against its government, US Senate aides told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The Senate bill, which has 59 co-sponsors representing both parties, has been actively opposed by US President Barack Obama, who says a vote now would derail multilateral diplomatic efforts aimed at curbing the nuclear crisis peacefully.
The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act would trigger harsh sanctions against the Islamic Republic should it fail to uphold the terms of an interim agreement it reached with the P5+1 – the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany – that requires Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium to high levels, and begin the destruction of its highly enriched stockpiles.
One aide said only a third of the Senate was leaning toward opposing the bill.
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Democrat who introduced the bill, has called it an “insurance policy” for concerned members of Congress wary of the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), who co-authored the bill with Menendez, expressed frustration with the holdup to the Post on Wednesday.
“This bipartisan bill is supported by the overwhelming majority of the United States Senate and the American people,” Kirk said. “It deserves a vote.”
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), a close ally of the president, said on Tuesday that a vote would not come to pass anytime soon.
Reid acknowledged broad support for the bill. But asked when he might allow a Senate vote on the legislation, he also noted that 10 Democratic committee chairmen had written to him opposing it.
“Let’s see how this plays out,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“The legislative process is working forward here. I am going to sit and be as fair an umpire as I can,” Reid said.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate, told reporters he believed the vote should take place, and suggested that backers might be able to muster the 67 votes necessary to override a presidential veto.
“We’re going to continue to continue to press in order to allow a vote on an issue that obviously enjoys the support of a very large bipartisan majority here in the Senate,” he said.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee publicly endorsed the sanctions bill in progress on Wednesday after working privately for months to bring the legislation to pass.
A message from AIPAC urged Congress to “ensure Iranian compliance, and called on members to establish parameters for what they would consider an acceptable final nuclear deal.
The bill under consideration “provides for additional sanctions on Iran while honoring the president’s request and the terms of the interim agreement that call for no additional sanctions during the talks,” AIPA C’s statement read.
“Congress must complete work on legislation to increase pressure on Iran if it violates or rejects an acceptable final deal.
Reuters contributed to this report.