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Obama’s Big Win on Iran Sanctions (Updated)

Menendez wants to get to work on the ISIS issue. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Menendez wants to get to work on the ISIS issue. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 12:34 p.m. | Make that one more veto threat President Barack Obama probably won’t have to carry out: Senate Democrats are abandoning efforts to pass an Iran sanctions bill over its nuclear program while talks continue, at least until March 24.  

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey announced during a Senate hearing Tuesday that he and other Senate Democrats would not support bringing the sanctions bill he cosponsored to the floor until that date. It comes after Menendez, in particular, has been harshly critical of the White House and the president for their handling of the Iran talks, and amid a brouhaha over the decision by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to snub the president and invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to the Congress without a prior heads-up to the White House.  

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat, Menendez, and eight other Democrats on Tuesday wrote Obama vowing not to vote for the sanctions bill before March 24 (full letter below).  

The date gives Obama the breathing room he wanted, while keeping the active threat of additional sanctions on Iran if their government fails to reach a deal.  

Obama has denounced the bill in very forceful terms, both in his State of the Union address and in a press conference, vowing to veto it and saying there was a high risk it would scuttle the talks and let Iran blame the United States for doing so. That, Obama said, would undermine the strong international coalition, including Russia and China, which is negotiating with Iran to prevent it from getting a nuclear weapon.  

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Mr. President:

We remain hopeful that diplomacy will succeed in reversing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon capability, in accordance with the timeline that the P5+1 and Iran negotiating teams have set for themselves: March 24, 2015 for a political framework agreement and June 30, 2015 to conclude negotiations on the technical annexes of the comprehensive deal.

Congress has always been a partner in the shared goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon capability. We remain appreciative of your leadership in seeking to protect the United States, and our allies and partners, from the threat of a nuclear Iran. For more than two decades, the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. Government have worked together in a bipartisan way to implement sanctions legislation that successfully ratcheted up pressure on Iran’s nuclear program. This pressure proved to be decisive in compelling Iranian leadership to enter the latest round of nuclear negotiations in September 2013.

We remain deeply skeptical that Iran is committed to making the concessions required to demonstrate to the world that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful by March 24 – the deadline agreed upon for a political framework agreement. Considering Iran’s history in nuclear negotiations and after two extensions of the Joint Plan of Action, we are concerned that Iran is intentionally extending the negotiations to improve its leverage at the negotiating table.

We are Democratic supporters of the Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2015 – a bill that would impose sanctions on Iran only if Iran fails to reach a comprehensive agreement by the June 30 deadline. This bill also includes monthly waivers after June 30 to provide additional negotiating flexibility. We believe that this bill, as introduced, is reasonable and pragmatic, respects the nuclear negotiating timeline, and sends a strong signal to Iran and to the international community that endless negotiations under the interim agreement are dangerous, unacceptable, and could leave Iran with a threshold nuclear weapon capability.

In acknowledgement of your concern regarding congressional action on legislation at this moment, we will not vote for this legislation on the Senate floor before March 24. After March 24, we will only vote for this legislation on the Senate floor if Iran fails to reach agreement on a political framework that addresses all parameters of a comprehensive agreement. This deadline is the critical test of Iranian intentions. We expect that your Administration will consult closely with Members of Congress in the coming months, and look forward to working with you to achieve our shared goal of reversing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon capability.

Sincerely,

Robert Menendez
United States Senator

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator

Gary C. Peters
United States Senator

Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator

Benjamin L. Cardin
United States Senator

Christopher A. Coons
United States Senator

Joe Manchin III
United States Senator

Joe Donnelly
United States Senator

Debbie Stabenow
United States Senator

Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.
Related:

Backed by Cameron, Obama Warns Congress on Iran


The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress


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