A bid to slap Iran with a new round of economic sanctions appears to have stalled in the Senate, after leading Democrats amplified concern about the threat such a move poses to a fragile diplomatic process.
Early in the week, reports that a bill introduced by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez was within striking distance of a veto-proof majority cast a shadow over news that negotiators had finalized a temporary agreement to freeze Iran’s nuclear program, beginning Monday. New sanctions would likely kill negotiations for a final deal, the White House warned lawmakers, and increase the chances of an armed conflict with Iran.
But Senate majority leader Harry Reid has given no indication that he will bring the bill up for a vote, and the pressure to do so is falling now that top Democrats have intensified opposition to the proposed legislation. The Kirk-Menendez bill gained no new endorsements this week, and even one supportive senator admitted Wednesday to a break in momentum.
Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Intelligence Committee, called the sanctions bill "a march towards war" on Tuesday in a floor speech that was remarkable in detail and force. “I deeply believe that a vote for this legislation will cause negotiations to collapse,” Feinstein said, after thoroughly rebutting many of the claims about the interim deal put forth by the bill’s supporters. “The United States, not Iran, then becomes the party that risks fracturing the international coalition that has enabled our sanctions to succeed in the first place.”
Ten committee chairs circulated a joint statement warning that “new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail.” Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Tim Kaine of Virginia said they opposed the measure at this point. Even one of the co-sponsors of the Kirk-Menendez bill, Richard Blumenthal, indicated that the time wasn’t right for a vote. “I want to talk to some of my colleagues. I’m encouraged and heartened by the apparent progress and certainly the last thing I want to do is impede that progress,” he said on Monday.
Major newspapers condemned the bill, including theNew York Times, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Washington Post, whose editorial board often betrays a neoconservative streak. More than sixty organizations including J Street, the National Iranian Council, American Baptist Churches, and CREDO delivered a letter to the Senate on Tuesday stating that the law “sets insurmountable demands for a comprehensive nuclear deal” and would “critically endanger the possibility of a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff with Iran, increasing the likelihood of a nuclear-armed Iran and an unnecessary and costly war.”