US Democrats put brakes on Iran sanctions bill

2015-01-28 13:24

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Washington - Senate Democrats have put the brakes on new Iran sanctions legislation, ending a looming showdown between US Congress and President Barack Obama over the Middle East country for the time being.

Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat and a leading proponent of the legislation, says he remains sceptical a deal will materialise, but says he and nine other Democrats now won't push the bill at least until the end of March.

Menendez' concession to the White House is good news for Obama, who has threatened to veto any new sanctions legislation.

Republicans could still move ahead on the bill, but without Democratic support, Congress would not have the votes needed to override an Obama veto.

The White House, British Prime Minister David Cameron and other international leaders have been lobbying US lawmakers hard, arguing that if new sanctions legislation were passed, Iran could walk away from the talks and say the US was negotiating in bad faith and scuttle the discussions.

Obama said the willingness of America's international partners to enforce existing sanctions against Iran also would wane.

Rising friction

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner fuelled the rising friction with the White House by announcing that he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch opponent of Iran, to stand before Congress 3 March and push for new sanctions.

The announcement caught the administration off-guard and Obama says he will not be meeting with Netanyahu when he visits Washington.

Boehner defended his decision again on Tuesday, saying the House is an equal branch of government and had the right to invite the Israeli leader to "talk to the members of Congress about the serious threat that Iran poses and the serious threat of radical Islam”.

Time could be running out to reach a deal with Iran, which says its nuclear program is peaceful and exists only to produce energy for civilian use. Talks have been extended until July, with the goal of reaching a framework for a deal by the end of March.

No support

Menendez, who drafted bipartisan legislation with Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican, said at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing that he and many of his Democratic colleagues had sent a letter to Obama saying they won't support passage of the bill until after 24 March - the date when a framework for a final deal is to be done.

"The legislation that Senator Kirk and I have drafted would signal to the Iranian regime that there will be more consequences if they choose not to reach a final deal," Menendez said.

"This morning, however, many of my Democratic colleagues and I sent a letter to the president, telling him that we will not support passage of the Kirk-Menendez bill on the Senate floor until after March 24 and only if there is no political framework agreement because, as the letter states, we remain hopeful that diplomacy will succeed in reversing Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapon capability."

A senior Senate staffer said there was broad consensus among Democrats that the administration be afforded a bit more time to come to a deal before approving more sanctions even though they would take effect only if no agreement is reached. The staffer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to publicly discuss the issue.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us  |  iran

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