Support for Iran Sanctions Bill Nears Senate Majority

Image: Support for Iran Sanctions Bill Nears Senate Majority Sens. Bob Menendez, left, and Mark Kirk

Wednesday, 15 Jan 2014 11:32 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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The White House is applying "enormous pressure" on Senate Democrats to withhold support for a bill that would impose additional sanctions on Iran if it fails to make good on its promises to halt its development of nuclear weapons.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is walking a tight rope as he staves off a vote on the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, Buzzfeed reports.

The bill is co-sponsored by Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois.

A total of 16 Democrats have voiced support of the bill while most of their colleagues try to stay under the radar until further indication about whether Iran plans to make good on the deal struck in Geneva late last year. The Iranians reached a diplomatic agreement with the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia to limit uranium enrichment in exchange for the easing of international sanctions for six months.

"I'm looking at the bill and will continue to do that," explained New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen .

Menendez maintains that Tehran cannot be trusted and that the Iranians have already laid the groundwork for breaching it. His bill, he wrote in an op-ed piece published in The Washington Post last week, "is a diplomatic insurance policy."

The Senate is nearing the 60-senator "filibuster-proof majority" required to approve the Kirk-Menendez bill, Senate aides told The Post.

As of Friday, according to the newspaper, 59 senators supported the bill. Another Senate aide said that an informal tally puts the figure in "the mid-70s."

Should that happen, Reid will be in a tight spot. The Obama administration believes a bill containing further sanctions would derail the process and the Iranians have indicated as much. National Security Council Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan issued a statement this week accusing Menendez and supporters of his bill of having a hidden agenda: military action.

In a show of support, 10 Democratic Senate committee chairs penned a letter to Reid last month urging him to reject additional sanctions unless Iran violates the current agreement.
Reid is playing it safe by avoiding a public position on the issue as well as decisively saying whether a vote will be permitted.

"We're going to wait and see how this plays out," he said.

Reid's juggling act isn't going unnoticed. "For weeks he has dodged questions about the topic, usually telling reporters to 'check with Menendez on that,' " the Post reported.

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