The US Senate is planning to move ahead with Iran-sanctions legislation soon after its recess ends in January, top senators said Thursday.
The sanctions bill, which includes measures to bar foreign companies' ability to export gasoline to Iran and otherwise limit the Islamic Republic's trade and shipping abilities, was last considered in October and has been held up by the health care debate and concerns the Obama administrations has with the legislation.
"I believe we have made some progress in our discussions of recent days," Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) said of conversations with the executive branch. Dodd, who also said he would have preferred for a vote on sanctions to have come before the winter recess that begins Friday, also noted that the passage of health care Thursday freed the Senate to take up the matter when it returns in the third week of January.
The administration has expressed concerns that the bill would alienate international allies whose energy companies would be hurt by the unilateral US legislation, as well as on the advisability of the timing of moving ahead with the bill as it tries to engage Iran. But the Senate's willingness to move forward could be a sign of lessening opposition from the White House.
In addition to Dodd's statements, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, all speaking following passage of the health care bill Thursday morning, indicated the importance of moving forward with it soon.
"I am committed to getting this legislation to the floor sometime after we return in January," Reid said of a bill which he described as "an effort to create new pressure on the Iranian regime and help stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."
Backing Reid's timeline, Kerry said, "We all share the goal of creating maximum leverage in our efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon - this is a vital national security goal of the United States, and obviously of critical importance to our allies in Israel and around the world.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that Kerry is contemplating making a personal visit to Iran. The prospect would break years of isolation since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when the US broke diplomatic ties with Iran.
The White House wouldn't oppose the trip, though it's unclear whether it would be an official visit, according to the story, but several Iranians in America expressed concerns that the overture could hurt the efforts of reformers and give the current regime legitimacy.
The House of Representatives has already passed more limited sanctions, which will need to be reconciled with the Senate version before being passed on to the president for his signature.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, however, has indicated he wants to give time for UN Security Council sanctions efforts set to start in January, which could push the bill's final passage back to February or March, if not later.