A White House victory as Senate retreats from Iran sanctions bill

Development marks a dramatic turn of events for a bill that, just two weeks ago, had the potential to garner 67 votes.

January 27, 2015 20:20
2 minute read.
United States Capitol building in Washington, DC

United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – Senators pushing for a bill that would trigger new sanctions on Iran in July have retreated from their effort for the time being.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) said on Tuesday he would not support an immediate vote on his own bill, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, until March 24 – close to a key deadline at the negotiating table between Iran and world powers over its nuclear program.

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“In acknowledgment of your concern regarding congressional action on legislation at this moment, we will not vote for this legislation on the Senate floor before March 24,” Menendez wrote to President Barack Obama in a letter signed by several other Democratic senators. “This deadline is the critical test of Iranian intentions.”

Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken praised the delay, saying the parties sought to secure in place “core elements” of a comprehensive nuclear accord by March 31.

“There are lots of people that don’t want an agreement, on any terms,” Blinken said, adding that Congress would ultimately need to vote on lifting or suspending sanctions in any deal.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), agreed that without bipartisan “unity,” new Iran legislation was unlikely to proceed to a floor vote before the deadline.

That marks a dramatic turn of events for a bill that, just two weeks ago, had the potential to garner 67 votes. Obama has threatened to veto the measure if it reaches his desk; it will still be marked up in the Banking Committee on Thursday.

“Its a small, positive win for our side,” said one senior Democratic aide in the Senate.

“The sanctions movement completely eroded over the last week. There was just a confluence of unfortunate events for its supporters.”

The aide cited competing interests in the offices of one of the co-authors, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), and Corker, who had his own version of a bill in mind. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) also had language drafted.

Democrats were also “embittered,” the aide said, as the issue became a partisan affair with the surprise invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on the matter.

Netanyahu will still come, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer says, to address “the most powerful parliament in the world on an issue that concerns the future and survival of Israel.”

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said Menendez weighed delaying the bill after Obama delivered his State of the Union address and before Netanyahu’s invitation was announced. The fact that Congress will vote on Iranian sanctions close to the time of Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress makes his speech more relevant then ever, the sources said.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.

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