Menendez, Democrats Pushing Obama to Strengthen Iran Sanctions

Image: Menendez, Democrats Pushing Obama to Strengthen Iran Sanctions

Monday, 02 Dec 2013 08:36 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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President Barack Obama is facing opposition from senior members of his own party over the question of sanctions on Iran, with a bipartisan group of senior senators working this week on a sanctions bill they hope to push through before the Christmas break.

However, the Obama administration believes the bill could jeopardize the temporary nuclear agreement it reached with Iran on Nov. 23 and hinder talks for a permanent deal being crafted in hopes of keeping the country from building a nuclear weapon, reports The Washington Post.

The interim agreement freezes Iran's nuclear programs while easing some existing sanctions, and administration officials say a new sanctions bill may give Iran the upper hand in upcoming talks and divide the United States from its negotiating partners.

“The purpose of sanctions from the outset was to create a dynamic so that you can get a change in policy from the Iran­ians,” David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told The Post. “It’s not sanctions for the sake of having sanctions.”

But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the a new sanctions bill will "strengthen the administration's hand." Further, Menendez said the legislation will show Iran what's coming if it doesn't strike a permanent nuclear deal in six months.
"I find it interesting that the Iranians can play good cop, bad cop with ‘hard-liners’ in their country, we can't," Menendez said.

The senior Democratic lawmaker is pushing for a measure that will further reduce international oil purchases from Iran, along with putting more sanctions on Iran's private sector. He wants a vote now, while keeping the sanctions on hold for six months while the long-term negotiations with Iran continue.

He says that if Congress waits for a final deal with Iran before it creates a sanctions package, that will give Iran a good four to six weeks to build a nuclear weapon before lawmakers can respond if talks fail.
Menendez said he does not understand the Obama administration's resistance, and that it “may very well be very happy to have that extra tool” as it enters new negotiations.

The New Jersey lawmaker said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation that he is also concerned that the six-month temporary deal fails to define a "mutually agreeable enrichment program" and softens the UN's call for Iran to stop its enrichment programs entirely.

The sanctions bill could be appended to vital legislation, including a pending defense appropriations bill, Menendez said, to make it more difficult for Obama to veto.

Meanwhile, the White House has organized a push between now and Dec. 9, when the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving break, to convince lawmakers not to act on new sanctions.

Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice are making personal calls to senators, while Kerry has sent out a video to Capitol Hill to explain the deal and clear up "misinformation" about it.

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