The bill initiated by the United States Congress to slap new sanctions on Iran is continuing to gain steam, it was reported on Friday.
According to The Associated Press (AP), 59 senators now back a new U.S. sanctions package they say would increase the pressure on Iran to make nuclear concessions - just one short of the number of votes it would need to pass.
The count brings Congress closer to passing a bill the Obama administration considers a threat to a historic diplomatic opportunity, congressional aides told AP.
The senators in favor include every Republican except Jeff Flake of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky, aides told the news agency. 16 Democrats are on board, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, a top ally of President Barack Obama. Many more are understood to be sitting on the fence, the aides said.
With the House of Representatives strongly backing more economic pressure on Tehran, the Senate is now close to the 60 votes needed to pass most legislation in the 100-member chamber.
Advocates are also not far away from rounding up the 67 votes they would need to override a presidential veto, which the White House has vowed if the bill makes it out of Congress.
Aides provided the latest tally on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
On Monday, the measure had about 48 co-sponsors, up from 26 when the bill was introduced on December 19.
The Obama administration has insisted the bill would damage delicate talks being held between Iran and world powers over the nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has threatened that a new sanctions law would kill the interim agreement.
The Obama administration has waged an aggressive campaign to convince lawmakers to postpone passing new sanctions on Iran.
Obama recently told lawmakers that Iran would make progress in its ability to build a nuclear weapon if there is no diplomatic deal to halt or roll back its nuclear program.
"The need for additional prospective sanctions is already clear," Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat who drafted the bill, said Friday, according to AP.
Since the interim accord was reached with Iran in Geneva in November, he argued, Iran has made several announcements related to its uranium and plutonium programs that reinforce the need for Washington not to let up on the pressure.
"This is hardly a march to war," Menendez said.
The legislation would blacklist several Iranian industrial sectors and threaten banks and companies around the world with being banned from the U.S. market if they help Iran export any more oil. The provisions would only take effect if Tehran violates the six-month interim deal or lets it expire without a comprehensive nuclear agreement.
Lawmakers in Iran have responded to the American measure by drafting a bill of their own to increase the country’s level of uranium enrichment.
The bill, if passed, would oblige the government in Tehran to produce 60-percent enriched uranium.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)