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Republicans Push for More Iran Sanctions as Talks are Extended

Ayotte and Graham announced their opposition to the budget deal, but McCain, center, said he's leaning in favor of it. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Ayotte and Graham announced their opposition to the budget deal, but McCain, center, said he's leaning in favor of it. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Monday’s seven-month extension of talks about the Iranian nuclear program make it very likely the Senate will vote on strengthening sanctions against Iran in the first part of 2015.  

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican who will be majority leader next year, signaled that just two days before Election Day.  

“I think what we ought to do if we can’t get an acceptable agreement with the Iranians is tighten the sanctions, and in fact we had a bill in the Senate to do that, which the current majority leader wouldn’t allow a vote on,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky at the time. “Not to stop the talks, but to say at the end of the talks, if there’s no good outcome, then the Iranians would get tougher sanctions.”  

The Republican Senate trio of Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona echoed that sentiment in a statement Monday.  

“We have supported the economic sanctions, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, in addition to sanctions placed on Iran by the international community. These sanctions have had a negative impact on the Iranian economy and are one of the chief reasons the Iranians are now at the negotiating table. However, we believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval,” the senators said. “Every Member of Congress should have the opportunity to review the final deal and vote on this major foreign policy decision.”  

The Obama administration has long opposed the adoption of additional conditional sanctions during the talks, however.  

“We continue to believe that adding on sanctions while negotiations are ongoing would be counterproductive, and the reason for that is pretty simple. It’s important for people to understand how the sanctions regime works,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, before lauding the work of Congress on existing sanctions. “The effect of that sanctions regime was multiplied because of the diplomatic work that the administration did to get other countries around the world to abide by that regime”  

“The concern that we have is that layering on additional sanctions could leave some of our partners with the impression that the sanctions regime is more punitive in nature than anything else,” Earnest said. “That could cause some cracks in that international coordination to appear.”  

Speaking to reporters at the talks in Vienna, Secretary of State John Kerry said the extension came along with it a “very specific goal of finishing the political agreement within four months and with the understanding that we will go to work immediately, meet again very shortly, and if we can do it sooner we want to do it sooner.”  

Kerry said the P5+1 parties and Iran would assess the situation if four months pass without a path forward on the political situation.  

Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed the view that an extension would be preferable to reaching a bad agreement.  

“This extension demonstrates the international community’s strong desire to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We and our allies will be more secure with such a comprehensive agreement in hand,” said retiring Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.  

“Since the beginning, I have been concerned about a series of rolling extensions becoming the norm and reducing our leverage. However, I would rather the administration continue to negotiate than agree to a bad deal that would only create more instability in the region and around the world,” said Bob Corker. “With so much riding on these talks for the security of our nation and that of the region, Congress must have the opportunity to weigh in before implementation of any final agreement and begin preparing alternatives, including tougher sanctions, should negotiations fail.”  

The Republican from Tennessee is in line to take the gavel of the Foreign Relations Committee in the next Congress. He’s previously expressed interest in moving legislation that would require Congress to get a vote on any final agreement between the P5+1 states and Iran.  

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