Menendez Iran Sanctions Bill Stirs Democratic Unrest

Image: Menendez Iran Sanctions Bill Stirs Democratic Unrest

Monday, 13 Jan 2014 02:29 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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A fight is brewing among Democrats and the White House over a bill proposed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez that would impose additional sanctions against Iran if the country fails to make good on its promises regarding its nuclear program.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the New Jersey Democrat's bill has drawn criticism from the White House, which fears that saber rattling over more sanctions could upset efforts to reach a final agreement with Tehran aimed at effectively ending its nuclear program. In December, a large group of Democratic Senate chairman also raised the same concern about threatening new sanctions before talks have even gotten well underway.

The U.S., along with Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia, struck a deal with Tehran to limit uranium enrichment in exchange for the easing of international sanctions for six months. Menendez and other liberal Democratic heavyweights, including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, have voiced skepticism over the interim deal, arguing that it has no "end game" and is not stringent enough.

Two dozen senators – 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans – are cosponsoring the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, introduced by Menendez and Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk. Writing in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post last Thursday, Menendez argued that the U.S. needs to operate from a trust and verify stance with Iran, a historically untrustworthy nation.

"The American public supports diplomacy. So do I." Menendez wrote. "The American public doesn’t trust the Iranian regime. Neither do I."

The same day, the White House struck back with a statement from National Security Council Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan, who accused Menendez and other critics of the deal of being stealth war hawks.

"If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action [against Iran's nuclear development efforts], they should be up front with the American public and say so," she said. "Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed."

Meehan argued that the Menendez-Kirk bill would be counter-productive and "divide the international community . . . and possibly end negotiations."

Also lining up against Menendez and his camp are 10 Senate committee chairmen, who penned a Dec. 18 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to reject additional sanctions unless Iran violates the current agreement.

"We believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail," the letter stated.

But Menendez wrote in his op-ed piece that Iran has already laid the groundwork for breaching terms of the deal reached in Geneva by doing things like firing a rocket into space and improving their ability to develop a long-range ballistic missile. Tehran has also proposed enriching uranium up to 60 percent, well beyond any potential use for peaceful purposes, according to Menendez.

His bill, he argues, "supports continued negotiations, gives the administration a year of flexibility to secure a comprehensive agreement, respects the sanctions relief Iran is set to receive and prevents any new sanctions from taking effect while good-faith negotiations are underway."

He called measure a "diplomatic insurance policy" and "an act of reasonable pragmatism."

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