US Senate ready to impose new Iran sanctions if talks fail

US senators will seek to impose new sanctions on Iran if nuclear negotiations fail to produce a framework agreement next week.

As the March 31 deadline for a framework nuclear deal looms, the US Senate is preparing for an end to the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries. If talks fail, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) will propose an amendment to the federal budget imposing additional sanctions on Iran. But if an agreement is reached, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow the chamber to vote on a bill requiring President Barack Obama to submit the agreement for Congressional approval.

Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, told reporters, “I have an amendment coming up that basically recommends a new round of sanctions.” He was optimistic that the Senate would vote on his proposal this week, noting that the original deadline of March 24 already passed. He criticized Obama for urging Congress to be patient, saying, “We are watching kind of a version of the ayatollah stole my homework.”

The Senate Banking Committee will be voting on the Kirk-Menendez bill on Thursday, and it is expected to pass.

McConnell, in his remarks on Tuesday, referred to legislation co-authored by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Committee. Such a bill would require the president to submit any nuclear agreement to Congress for approval and would institute a 60-day waiting period for the lifting of sanctions.

“We will be taking up the Corker-Menendez proposal at some point if there is an agreement,” McConnell said at a weekly press briefing. “We’re hopeful there will be as many as 67 senators who will say, Mr. President, we really do need to be able to approve the final agreement.”

Debate on the bill was originally scheduled for this month, but the senators postponed the discussion until April in response to the president’s complaint that it would complicate the negotiations. The Foreign Relations Committee also believed that delaying the bill until after the negotiations deadline had passed would make Congress more amenable to passing it into legislation.

McConnell indicated that sanctions would be the likely response if a deal cannot be reached. “We all know that sanctions seem to be the only thing that have worked so far,” he said. “So another heavy dose of sanctions would be an appropriate remedy if there’s no agreement at all.”

The Obama administration has threatened to veto both bills. The White House argues that a nuclear agreement is not legally a treaty and that the Senate is therefore overstepping its Constitutional authority. Furthermore, the administration is concerned that having an explicit backup plan would have a negative impact on negotiations.