Defying White House, 26 senators prep Iran sanctions bill

A bipartisan group of 26 senators is planning to introduce a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran if the regime violates its interim nuclear deal or if a final agreement falls through.

The effort, led by U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would increase pressure on Iran if it fails to meet the obligations it agreed to in last month’s historic deal to freeze parts of its nuclear program. That promise to halt the nation’s advances towards a nuclear weapon came in exchange for the temporary relief of some economic sanctions.

The White House said Thursday that any sanctions legislation at this time would hurt ongoing diplomatic negotiations with Iran and that the president would veto the Senate proposal if passed.

“Now is not the time to pass new legislation in Congress," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Thursday. "If Iran does not comply with the interim agreement or agree to a more comprehensive agreement in six months, we are confident we can come back to Congress and pass additional sanctions at that time."

But the legislation’s backers say that Iranian leaders can’t be trusted to hew to the deal’s principles without the threat of sanctions.

"The American people rightfully distrust Iran's true intentions and they deserve an insurance policy to defend against Iranian deception during negotiations," Kirk said in a statement. "This is a responsible, bipartisan bill to protect the American people from Iranian deception and I urge the Majority Leader to give the American people an up or down vote."

“Current sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table and a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table," said Menendez, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The Iranians last week blamed the Administration for enforcing sanctions; now, they criticize Congress. The burden rests with Iran to negotiate in good faith and verifiably terminate its nuclear weapons program. Prospective sanctions will influence Iran's calculus and accelerate that process toward achieving a meaningful diplomatic resolution."