Senate prepares new Iran sanctions bill before State of the Union

Ambassador Power warns new legislation "dramatically undermines" nuclear talks.

January 12, 2015 23:19
2 minute read.

President Barack Obama waits with Sergeants at Arms and Members of Congress before entering the House Chamber to deliver the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, Jan. 28, 2014. (photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)

WASHINGTON -- Senate leadership will move ahead this week with a bill that triggers new sanctions on Iran if negotiations over its nuclear program fail, according to senior aides on Capitol Hill.

Any such bill is opposed by the Obama administration, currently leading an aggressive diplomatic effort toward a comprehensive nuclear accord with Iran alongside members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany.

"At this time, increasing sanctions would dramatically undermine our efforts to reach this shared goal," US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said on Monday.

Nevertheless, speaking with The Jerusalem Post last week, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said the upper chamber is keen to mark up a bill in committee by January 20— the day US President Barack Obama will deliver his annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

One aide familiar with the drafting process predicted the bill would attract 65 cosponsors within days, guaranteeing passage. But Graham said his caucus seeks 67— a veto-proof majority.

"There are ways to defund the enforcement of a deal," Graham said, speaking on the sidelines of an event for outgoing IDF Chief of General Staff Lt-Gen. Benny Gantz at the Israeli embassy in Washington.

Several senators, including Graham, have drafted language for consideration. But most likely to see a mark-up and vote is the wording of Senators Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

"There is no question we are at this point because of the impact that sanctions – including those passed by Congress – have had on Iran," one State Department official told the Post on Monday. "But sanctions did not stop the advance of Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations have done that."

The administration is waiting to see specific legislation before commenting on its contents, the official said.

"But our position on new nuclear-related sanctions legislation has not changed," he continued: "We have been clear with Congress that, just as we’ve asked Iran to uphold its commitments under the JPOA, we have committed to no new nuclear-related sanctions while the JPOA is in effect."

The editorial board of the New York Times called Congress' efforts a "problem" in its Sunday edition, warning such a bill "could torpedo any deal by imposing new sanctions on Iran."

The bill, however, would not impose new sanctions on Iran until an interim deal framing the talks, formally known as the Joint Plan of Action, expires. That deal prohibits the implementation of new nuclear-related sanctions during the diplomatic effort.

Negotiations have continued on a rolling basis between technical experts and lower-level diplomats ever since January of 2014. But talks between political directors from the parties have occurred in person on a near-monthly basis, and resume this week in Geneva.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will check in on those talks, meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

"The meeting is calculated to take stock, number one, and to provide direction to our teams, number two, and to hopefully be able to accelerate the process to make greater progress," Kerry told reporters on a visit to India on Monday.

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