The escalation in the fight over sanctions comes less than four weeks after diplomats from Iran and six world powers signed a historic accord in Geneva that temporarily freezes key parts of Tehran’s nuclear program in return for short-term relief from some economic sanctions. Negotiators set a six-month deadline for hammering out a permanent treaty that would set strict limits on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
The measure introduced Thursday, if approved, would impose harsh new sanctions on Iran’s petroleum industry while also threatening U.S. allies and partners with financial restrictions unless they sharply curtail trade with Iran. The sanctions would go into effect if Iran violated the terms of the temporary accord reached last month or if it failed to reach a permanent agreement with world powers in a timely manner.
Sponsors of the bill said it would increase U.S. leverage as the nation’s diplomats continue to work toward a permanent deal. But White House officials had pushed hard to delay the bill’s introduction, saying that even the threat of new sanctions could cause the fragile negotiations to collapse.
Iran has warned that any additional U.S. sanctions during the ongoing nuclear talks could doom chances for a deal. Iran’s diplomatic team briefly walked away from a round of technical negotiations last week after the Obama administration took action to enforce existing sanctions against the Islamic republic.
“We have made very clear to them that we do not believe now is the time to pass any additional, new sanctions through Congress,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “We don’t think it will be enacted; we certainly don’t think it should be enacted.”
A key Republican sponsor of the bill, Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), said the threat of new sanctions was needed to “protect the American people from Iranian deception.”
“The American people rightfully distrust Iran’s true intentions, and they deserve an insurance policy to defend against Iranian deception during negotiations,” Kirk said.
The letter from the 10 Senate Democrats urged Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) not to allow the measure to come up for a vote.
“We believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail,” said the letter, whose signatories included Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.).
The bill’s prospects appear uncertain at best. Even if Reid allows the bill to come to the floor and it passes, it would have to be reconciled with a far harsher House version passed in the summer. Even if those hurdles were cleared, the legislation would still be likely to face a White House veto.
“The president has made clear that if it did come to a vote and passed, he’d veto it,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity about relations with Congress.
“The goal should be for the negotiations to succeed. This would make that far less likely,” the official added.
Anne Gearan contributed to this report.