Home > Uncategorized > Senate Iran Sanctions Bill Stalls as Republicans Call for Tougher Measures

Senate Iran Sanctions Bill Stalls as Republicans Call for Tougher Measures

Jockeying on an Iran sanctions bill is expected to continue this week as lawmakers seek to settle differences ahead of high-level nuclear talks.

Senators are debating whether the economic sanctions bill should include a provision that states all options are on the table for encouraging Iran to abandon its nuclear program, including the use of military force.

Senate Democrats argue that it is imperative to complete the sanctions bill before Tuesday’s P5+1 meetings in Baghdad between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany.

Republicans were less eager to jump at the Tuesday deadline, preferring to take whatever time needed to ensure the measure includes the tougher “use of military force” language.

Meanwhile, as the Senate remains deadlocked over the bill, a top Iranian official, Shamseddin Hosseini, minister of economy and finance, acknowledged Friday that the current sanctions are creating economic “difficulties” for his country but he expects to weather them, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“The sanctions have created a lot of disturbances for us,” Hosseini said. “But we have overcome those challenges and difficulties, and are making up for what was lacking.”

He said the U.S. and European Union are putting their fragile economic recoveries at risk because fewer Iranian oil exports could cause a spike in global gas prices.

Heading into the second round of nuclear talks, Tehran reportedly wants the sanctions lifted, as the Obama administration has credited the pressure from them for bringing Iran back to the negotiating table.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked an Iran sanctions package offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) because they want the stronger language mentioning the possibility of military force to deter Iran from moving forward on a nuclear weapons program.

The move clearly rankled and surprised Reid while Republicans expressed their own sense of amazement saying they didn’t know about the changes in the bill until late Wednesday night.

A GOP aide told The Hill that “neither Leader Reid nor [Banking] Chairman [Tim] Johnson’s staff ever agreed to a single meeting with Sen. [Mark] Kirk’s office to address the senator’s proposed amendment.”

“Emails and phone calls went unreturned for weeks,” the aide said. “The first time Democrats ever discussed the Iran bill with Republicans was last night when Reid’s office dropped off the manager’s amendment he negotiated with himself.”

Reid pushed back against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) that they didn’t have enough time to look at the bill.

“The language they’re objecting to is in the base-bill,” Reid said.

“So unless they didn’t read the base -bill, we have a problem here,” he said.

“Mr. President this has been a classic example of rope-a-dope.”

Several Republicans argued on the floor that adding a “use of force” provision reflects Obama’s policy that all options are on the table when it comes to Iran exploring nuclear weapons capability.

A round of intense debate on Thursday produced little in the way of a solution and seemed to clutter the path toward a Senate compromise.

To further complicate the matter, the parties will have to decide whether to add a line saying force may be used, whether to keep language authored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), which was added by Democrats, saying the bill isn’t a declaration of war — Republicans and Democrats have argued that the language is unnecessary — and how to proceed on a separate bipartisan resolution that essentially states what the GOP wants to add to the main sanctions bill.

As of Friday, a Democratic aide said Republicans were still working on their intra-party issues and there is hope they will work out their issues over the weekend so the Senate can move to the bill early next week.

A Republican aide told The Hill that both sides are still working on a solution.

The Senate is gone until next week and, with a weekend deal, could wrap up work as early as Monday. But that won’t clear a bill for the president’s signature.

Even if the Senate passes the bill, both chambers will have to meet to reconcile their versions.

The issue of sanctions has been stewing since last summer when the House Foreign Affairs Committee began work on a bill. The House-passed measure in December followed with the Senate Banking Committee moving a bill unanimously in February.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) insisted Thursday adding the language would “send an appropriate” signal to Iran but would not be intended to green-light military action.

“I just want to add one simple line that says we recognize what the president was saying that military force is also an option,” Graham said.

“The problem I have is that it is silent on a concept that we all agree on and I don’t want to create a document before negotiations on Tuesday that doesn’t include something beyond sanctions to change the Iranian behavior we all want to avoid,” he added.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said adding the language should not be a problem because it does not represent a major change in policy toward Iran.

Republicans agreed that, in its current form, the bill would back away from Obama’s tougher policy that he would do anything necessary to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

“It echoes the policy of the country, not just sanctions and we’ll get a lot of votes for this,” Graham said.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) who has sponsored the separate use of force resolution with Graham and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), said regardless of the language included in the sanctions bill, the president would still have to ask Congress for any use of force in the region.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said the chamber should pass the Lieberman-Graham-Casey resolution separately and in tandem with the economic sanctions bill.

“You should not hold hostage the sanctions legislation in order to push a goal that should be taken care of by the Lieberman-Graham resolution,” he said.

The resolution states that it is unacceptable to contain a nuclear-armed Iran and is intended to send a message to the Iranians that U.S. will do whatever is necessary to stop them from acquiring nuclear-weapons capability.

Menendez said that previously no one sought to include a “use of force” provision and the change in the economic sanctions bill.

The legislation includes part of an amendment that Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) aimed at strengthening sanctions “against companies that engage in or support censorship in Iran.”

The bill also includes an amendment from Menendez on Iran’s jamming of satellite communications.

In addition, the agreement includes non-binding language recommending intensified sanctions enforcement and monitoring of sanctions evasion efforts by Iran, and urging Obama to further study the other areas of concern raised by Kirk.

Reid previously tried to pass similar legislation by unanimous consent in late March.

The agreement also includes additional changes strengthening human rights provisions, recognizing the European Union’s recent cut-off of designated Iranian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which is used to move money around the world, and refining provisions related to victims of terrorism in Iran, a Democratic aide said.

The improved package has the backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group, which sent a letter to lawmakers on Thursday urging support for the measure.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) expressed concern Thursday about the direction the Senate bill is taking.

“I am deeply concerned that the administration’s foolish embrace of yet another round of negotiations will only embolden the regime,” she said.

“The administration has made concession after concession in its negotiations with Iran only to come empty handed.

“The Iranian approach seems to be: ‘What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.'”

 

Vicki Needham

05/20/2012

Related link – http://tinyurl.com/c4jbh9e

 

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