Senate to Wait on New Iran Sanctions

A victory for Obama? Senate Banking Committee announces it will hold off on passing a new Iran sanctions bill.

Elad Benari ,

Previous round of talks in Geneva
Previous round of talks in Geneva

The Obama administration recorded a victory on Tuesday, as the Senate Banking Committee announced it will hold off on passing a new Iran sanctions bill, reports Politico.

The committee’s chairman, Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), said he made his decision after hearing from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The President and Secretary Kerry have made a strong case for a pause in Congressional action on new Iran sanctions, so I am inclined to support their request and hold off on Committee action for now. I’ll have more to say on this at Thursday’s Banking Committee hearing,” Johnson said in a statement.

Over the past few weeks, senators have insisted on passing new legislation imposing further sanctions on Iran, despite a six-month interim nuclear deal which scales back Iran’s nuclear program while lifting some of the harsh global sanctions that have crippled the Islamic Republic’s economy.

The Obama administration, for its part, 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.

On Tuesday, Kerry appealed to Congress to "hold off" on new sanctions, telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee that such legislation would be "gratuitous" and could give Tehran an excuse to "flout" the recently struck nuclear deal.

Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) answered Kerry, saying that imposing additional sanctions is “a pretty responsible way to make certain that the Iranians do indeed negotiate in good faith.”

Johnson’s decision does not mean the White House is fully in the clear, however, noted Politico.

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) continue to pursue a bipartisan sanctions bill that would likely give a six-month window for further negotiations before taking effect. That bill has not been introduced yet — and most in Senate leadership believe there’s not enough time in December to pass a standalone sanctions bill.

“The next step is to see if the folks who are working on [the bill] can get agreement on it,” a senior Democratic aide told Politico on Tuesday.

Both Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will give a closed-door briefing to all senators on Wednesday afternoon to update them on developments in Iran, Senate sources said.

Kerry and Lew will lay out the administration’s interim nuclear agreement with Iran a day before top Treasury and State department officials testify before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that the agreement that was signed with Iran is dangerous and will allow Tehran to continue its nuclear program and give nothing back to the West while being rewarded with sanctions relief.

This position has placed Netanyahu at odds with the administration in the United States. Last month, during a briefing to the same Banking Committee that now says it will delay sanctions, Kerry told the senators to “ignore the Israelis” regarding Iran.