US Senate to move on new Iran sanctions in December if no nuclear agreement reached

United States will impose additional sanctions on Tehran next month if no progress is made in current talks on Iran's nuclear programme

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 10:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 10:24am

The US Senate will move to impose new sanctions on Iran in December if nuclear negotiations between Western powers and Tehran do not bear fruit, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on Thursday.

“The Senate must be prepared to move forward with a new bipartisan Iran sanctions bill when the Senate returns after the Thanksgiving recess. I’m prepared to do just that,” Reid said.

The ongoing talks in Geneva are seen as the best hope in years to resolve the stand-off over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme after a decade of rising tensions.

Iran and world powers locked horns on Thursday in the intense and difficult talks on a preliminary accord, with Tehran saying “no progress” was made.

President Barack Obama’s administration has leaned heavily on Congress to hold fire on new sanctions legislation in order to give negotiations a chance to succeed, sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Capitol Hill multiple times to warn lawmakers off such a move.

“I believe we need to leave our legislative options open to act on a new, bipartisan sanctions bill in December.”
Harry Reid

Senators, including some anxious Democrats, agreed to temporarily hold off on the new sanctions.

Reid’s announcement that the delay would end next month is likely to be interpreted as a spur for Iran to reach a deal with the west or face even tougher punitive economic measures.

“While I support the administration’s diplomatic effort, I believe we need to leave our legislative options open to act on a new, bipartisan sanctions bill in December, shortly after we return” from a break, Reid told his colleagues.

“I will support a bill that would broaden the scope of our current petroleum sanctions; place limitations on trade with strategic sectors of the Iranian economy that support its nuclear ambitions, as well as pursue those who divert goods to Iran.”

A bipartisan group of 14 senators including John McCain and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez said they were committed to reducing the “grave threat” posed by a nuclear-armed Iran.

“We will work together to reconcile Democratic and Republican proposals over the coming weeks and to pass bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation as soon as possible,” the senators said in a statement.

The Senate adjourned on Thursday for a two-week break and returns December 9.

The House has already passed tough new Iran penalties and would need to negotiate with the Senate on the final language of any economic sanctions regime.

Meanwhile Republican Senator Bob Corker introduced legislation that would restrict sanctions relief until the Islamic republic agrees to eliminate the threat of its nuclear activities.

“It’s important for the Senate to proceed with this debate and keep the pressure on Iran during negotiations over their illicit nuclear programme,” Corker said.

The State Department said it was “pleased” Reid held off on new sanctions until after the current negotiations, but it stopped short of saying whether Corker’s bill threatened to upend the process.

“Given how sensitive and difficult these [negotiations] are, certainly any indication that the United States isn’t serious about the diplomatic track is unhelpful,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.