With the Democratic caucus deeply divided on a new Iran sanctions bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday he would wait and see how the issue played out before deciding whether to schedule a vote on the legislation.
Reid said he was trying to be as “fair” as possible as he considers both the growing support for a new sanctions bill and the opposition from 10 Senate committee chairmen.
One thing is certain, Reid said: “We're not going to allow [Iran] to have a nuclear weapon.”
The Obama administration and five other world powers sealed a six-month initial deal with Tehran on Sunday to roll back parts of Iran's nuclear program in return for nearly $7 billion in sanctions relief. Obama has said he would veto any new sanctions measure that comes to his desk, arguing that it would derail the historic deal with Iran.
But many Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are deeply distrustful of Iran and are concerned that the new deal continues to allow Tehran to develop an advanced centrifuge that would make uranium enrichment more efficient.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would continue pressing for a vote on the new sanctions bill after reports that it had attracted 59 co-sponsors, including 16 Democrats, and potentially enough votes to override a presidential veto.
Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, drafted the measure along with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
The bill would allow Obama a year of diplomacy before new sanctions would kick in but the president has warned that passing it would unravel the six-month interim agreement with the Iranians.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told the Washington Examiner that he doesn't believe that passage of the bill should damage the deal with Iran in any way.
“We believe, and I think it's been well-documented, that the sanctions and support for those sanctions have brought Iran to the table,” he said. “Now whether they'll follow through or not is unclear. There's not a lot of trust.
“The bill makes it clear that we prefer that [diplomatic] route, but if Iran doesn't comply with that route, not only will sanctions be reimposed but they will be tougher sanctions,” he continued. “I think that's consistent with the U.S. strategy.”
Some Democrats began pushing back against the bill Tuesday, with Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., issuing statements explaining why they aren't supporting the bill.
In announcing the finalized agreement Sunday, Obama administration officials confirmed that the deal would not impact Iran's research and development projects.
Top Iranian officials have claimed that the interim nuclear deal had a secret side agreement with additional terms that preserved Iran's right to continue to develop advanced centrifuge technology. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also tweeted that the West had “surrendered” to Iran's “will” in negotiations.
The president's spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday denied those reports, saying the White House planned to release all components of the formal deal to Congress and was working with the International Atomic Energy Association to see if the report could be released publicly.
He brushed aside Iranian talk of a “secret deal” and the West surrendering, casting it as hype Tehran was using to sell the deal to its people.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., issued a joint statement, expressing deep concern about reports of a “secret side deal” with Iran, as well as the agreement allowing Iran to keep all of its nuclear facilities open, continue to enrich uranium and expand its nuclear research, including into “next-generation centrifuges.”
“We call on the Obama administration to clarify this situation immediately and ensure that members of Congress are fully and promptly informed about its nuclear diplomacy with Iran,” they said. “If true, these reports only add greater urgency to the calls from an increasing number of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to pass new bipartisan sanctions legislation as soon as possible.”