Iran May Gain Ground Amid Eased U.S. Sanctions, Casey Says

Iran is gaining momentum on the international stage after the U.S. extended relief from economic sanctions against the country until June 30 during talks over its nuclear program, Democratic Senator Bob Casey said today.

“The Iranian regime is scoring points,” said Casey of Pennsylvania, who served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for more than six years. “They frankly look better than they did a few months ago because they’ve been engaged in negotiations and dialogue.”

“I worry that over time that these current sanctions have less significance,” Casey said at a Bloomberg News breakfast in Washington.

Iran initially was given limited relief from the U.S. sanctions from Jan. 20 to July 20, 2014, and it was extended until this July as negotiations over its nuclear program continued. U.S. and European sanctions have curbed foreign investment and hindered exports of the Persian Gulf state’s oil, its most important source of revenue.

Some in Congress, including Casey, have supported stronger sanctions against the Islamic republic. Casey said he thinks there will be a vote on sanctions before the July deadline for the nuclear negotiations, and he contended that would help maintain pressure on Iran.

Sending Message

The senator said he worries that some White House officials may be incorrectly sending a message that an agreement with Iran must happen now to be favorable to U.S. interests.

“I don’t necessarily buy that,” Casey said. The U.S. should at least have the threat of imposing enhanced sanctions, he said.

Administration officials say that adding more sanctions while the negotiations are under way would threaten to derail the talks, strengthen hard-line factions and eliminate any chance of reaching an agreement that would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Casey also said he believes legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to pass the Senate although “it doesn’t seem like” the chamber would have the 67 votes needed to override a veto from President Barack Obama.

Veto Threat

Obama has threatened to veto a Keystone measure passed by the House last week on grounds that it would interfere with his administration’s authority to decide whether to authorize the pipeline. TransCanada Corp.’s pipeline would move Canadian crude to the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

“We really should be working on bigger issues” than Keystone, such as authorizing military force against Islamic State terrorists, Casey said.

On the 2016 presidential race, Casey said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might win a number of votes from conservative Democrats in western Pennsylvania.

“I’d be very surprised if she didn’t run, very surprised if she weren’t the nominee” for the party, Casey said.

He said the number of Republicans who have expressed interest in running for president indicates that party is “headed for rancor and division.”

“There’s internal conflict there they haven’t resolved,” he said, noting the House Republican members who last week opposed John Boehner’s re-election as speaker.

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