January 31, 2014, Washington, D.C. – An Iran sanctions bill introduced last December is losing traction in the Senate with the Obama Administration, key lawmakers, and outside analysts warning that passing the legislation now could derail ongoing international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama hailed diplomatic efforts, backed by pressure, which has halted progress of Iran’s nuclear program and opened the possibility of reaching a peaceful comprehensive solution to the impasse.
“The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible,” said President Obama. “But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”
Fifty-nine Senators have thus far co-sponsored S.1881, which would impose sweeping new sanctions against Iran if no final deal is reached or if Iran violates the interim deal and inserts Congress into the negotiations by imposing certain conditions that must be included in a final deal.
The bill would need a total of 67 votes (along with 2/3 support in the House of Representatives) to thwart a Presidential veto. However, a number of the Democratic co-sponsors of the bill have recently expressed that now is not the time for a vote on Iran sanctions.
“I did not sign it with the intention that it would ever be voted upon or used upon while we were negotiating,” said Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) on MSNBC after the State of the Union address. “I signed it because I wanted to make sure the president had a hammer if he needed it and showed them how determined we were to do it and use it if we had to.”
The administration has asked members of Congress to temporarily hold off on the implementation of new legislation while talks with Iran are in progress. They believe new sanctions on Iran at this time could risk derailing the interim agreement by splintering the international coalition cooperating on sanctions. In the meantime, ten Senate Democratic committee chairs have circulated a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) citing December’s Intelligence Community’s assessment states that new sanctions now would undermine ongoing nuclear negations.
If the passage of new U.S. sanctions now causes the breakdown of the diplomatic process, then military conflict —or an Iranian nuclear weapon—would become more, not less, likely.
Furthermore, imposing new legislation now could also strengthen hardliners in Iran, who want to see the collapse of diplomatic initiatives, and alienate the Iranian people, who want their country to move in a different direction and engage the international community in a positive way.
Senator Reid has to date signaled his opposition of bringing the bill to Senate floor for a vote. As momentum stalls on sanctions legislation, lawmakers are considering the introduction of a non-binding resolution that would express Congress’ apprehension over Iran’s nuclear program and set to define parameters for a final deal.
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