A number of U.S. senators vowed to continue seeking new sanctions against Iran after meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who say such measures endanger an international accord designed to limit that nation’s nuclear program.
The senators favoring more sanctions said they see little chance of action until early 2014 at best, in light of opposition from Senate Democratic leaders to a debate in the chamber before a holiday break.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he expects a group of senators to introduce a measure soon with sanctions to be imposed after the six-month interim agreement between Iran and six world powers reached in Geneva last month.
“Something that would only go into effect after the negotiating period would be more helpful than hurtful,” he said. “I think there will be a bipartisan breakthrough soon.”
Graham has been working with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois on a measure that Graham said could see action by mid-January.
Kerry and Lew today provided a classified briefing on the first-step agreement reached with Iran last month. Lawmakers in both parties sought more information about potential gaps in the Nov. 24 agreement, verification of Iran’s cooperation and action against anyone who violates the sanctions against doing business with Iran.
Not all senators agree that more sanctions are necessary. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, said after the meeting that Iran should be pushed to live up to United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding that it halt all uranium enrichment.
“Sometimes Congress attempts to act as if they’ve done something relative to a particular issue, and to try to show that they’re being strong and make a statement,” Corker said. “At the end of the day, sometimes those things are only messaging and have no real substance behind them.”
The Obama administration pledged in the Geneva accord that it would oppose any new sanctions during the next six months while trying to negotiate a solution to the decade-long dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities.
The U.S. and its allies say Iran is pursuing the capability to make a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian energy and medical research only.
“This is a very delicate diplomatic moment, and we have a chance to address peacefully one of the most pressing national security concerns that the world faces,” Kerry yesterday told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where members from both parties said they backed a new round of sanctions.
In the past three years, the U.S. and the European Union have imposed dozens of sanctions on banking, oil, energy investments, ports, shipping and other trade with Iran.
Lawmakers from both parties have voiced opposition to the decision by the Obama administration to ease some sanctions on gold, autos and petrochemicals in exchange for concessions over Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work in the first-step agreement reached last month.
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