US Senate: Vote on Iran sanctions bill to go ahead if no deal
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US Senate: Vote on Iran sanctions bill to go ahead if no deal

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says punitive measures ‘appropriate remedy’ if no framework by March 31 target date

Majority leader Mitch McConnell (CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore, Flickr)
Majority leader Mitch McConnell (CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

The US Senate will vote on a bill imposing toughened sanctions on Iran if a US-led P5+1 agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear program is not reached by the pre-set target date of March 31, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.

“Another heavy dose of sanctions would be an appropriate remedy if there’s no agreement at all,” he said at a press conference, Reuters reported.

McConnell added that should the framework of a deal with Iran be reached by the deadline, lawmakers would go ahead with a separate bill that would require President Barack Obama to seek’s Congress’s approval for the agreement.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote on that bill on April 14, having agreed to hold off for two weeks beyond the deadline.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) reintroduced the Sanction Iran, Safeguard America Act, which would impose additional sanctions against Iran and, according to its sponsors, “help safeguard America in the face of the Obama administration’s disastrous proposed nuclear deal with Iran.”

The bill has little to no chance of garnering the kind of bipartisan support that would help it overcome a certain presidential veto, which Obama has promised to use regarding any bill that attempts to tie the hands of US negotiators.

The bill requiring Obama to submit any deal for Congress approval was coauthored by Senators Corker, Menendez, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) — with the last considered a close administration ally on a number of key issues. Co-sponsors include an additional five Democrats, and Republican support for the bill is near-unanimous, meaning that the sponsors only need to enlist some five to seven Democrats to get to the veto-proof status.

The administration has strived to convince Democratic senators to hold off voting on the bill until after a final agreement is reached with Iran, a perspective also conveyed in a letter that White House Chief-of-Staff Denis McDonough wrote to Corker over the weekend.

Congress’s role in finalizing any deal with Iran has come to the forefront of American debate about the ongoing P5+1 nuclear negotiations in recent weeks. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have criticized the administration for allegedly sidestepping the legislature — a critique that increased when reports emerged that any deal would be put before the United Nations Security Council for approval, but not Capitol Hill.

In response, the administration has stressed that the deal will not constitute a legally binding treaty that would require Congressional approval under the Constitution. Congress, stress administration representatives, will ultimately have a vote at the very end of the process, when lawmakers must vote to rescind the crushing sanctions regime that both Congress and the White House agree brought Iran to the negotiations table.

Because of the administration’s adamant opposition, the bill’s sponsors are trying to raise a veto-breaking majority of 67 votes in the Senate to ensure that the legislation can pass into law.

Meanwhile, an Iranian official on Tuesday rebuked the chief of the UN atomic agency for demanding snap inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites, saying the request hindered efforts to reach an agreement with world powers, state TV reported.

Earlier this month Yukiya Amano, the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, said Tehran should agree to snap inspections to reassure the international community.

Iran’s nuclear spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said Amano’s comments harm the delicate negotiations. “It would be much better if Amano only talked about the IAEA’s seasonal and monthly reports,” he said, according to state TV.

Last June, Kamalvandi said Iran may accept snap inspections as part of a final nuclear agreement.

Iran and the so-called P5+1 — the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — hope to reach a rough deal on the nuclear program by the end of March and a final agreement by June 30. Iran has called for a single-stage final accord soon.

Among the unresolved issues meant to be part of an agreement is a ruling by the atomic agency on whether Iran worked on nuclear arms in the past.

Tehran denies that, but the agency says it has information suggesting otherwise. It has remained essentially stalemated for a decade, however, in attempts to follow up on its suspicions.

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