A bipartisan group of senators will soon introduce legislation that would level new sanctions against Iran, defying pleas from President Obama for Congress to wait while the administration works toward a comprehensive deal. Lawmakers are circulating legislation to impose additional sanctions that would kick in after the six-month negotiating window to reach a comprehensive deal on Iran's nuclear program runs out, or if Iran fails to hold up its end of the bargain in the interim. The exact timing of the legislation's introduction will be largely up to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who is leading the bipartisan sanctions effort with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
International diplomatic talks with Iran have entered a highly delicate stage. The historic P5+1 agreement has been reached, and weapons inspectors are on the ground in Iran, but negotiations toward a broader deal are poised to slowly advance. The precarious nature of the talks could be derailed fairly easily.
All Congress has to do is nothing. So often, policy progress is dependent on House and Senate lawmakers reaching some sort of agreement to pass necessary legislation, but when it comes to U.S. policy in Iran, Congress literally doesn't have to act at all. Congress had no role in reaching the international agreement; it has no role in the ongoing inspections. Lawmakers can simply wait -- and if Iran breaks the terms of the deal or rejects additional diplomacy, Congress can always take further action as the need arises.
This is, after all, the moment U.S. officials have been hoping for. Congress passed sanctions to entice Iran to come to the table, and Iran came to the table. Pressure from sanctions was intended to encourage Iran to reach a deal, and Iran reached a deal. If Congress could resist the urge to destroy its own success, real progress could move forward.
It may be too much to ask.
The bill may be ready as early as this afternoon. Proponents are still hoping for a vote before senators break for the holidays.
Greg Sargent reports, that Obama administration officials have already told Senate Democrats, "publicly and privately," that the proposed bill would be counter-productive. The message appears to be resonating -- 10 Democratic Senate committee chairs signed a joint letter today calling for the defeat of the Iranian sanctions bill Menendez is championing.
The 10 senators argued that "at this time, as negotiations are ongoing, we believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney added today that President Obama would veto the measure if it reaches the Oval Office.