Senate Dems divided over new Iran sanctions


WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats stand divided over whether to slap a new batch of sanctions on Iran as President Barack Obama, fearing the penalties could derail negotiations, has implored Congress to hold off.

Obama's fresh appeal on Monday appeared to sway some Democrats, including lawmakers who have signed onto a new package of penalties proposed by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., that 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 take effect if Tehran violates the six-month interim deal — set to begin Jan. 20 — or lets it expire without a final agreement.

"I think that the Iran sanctions bill is meant to strengthen the president, not in any way impede the ongoing negotiation which should and hopefully will be successful," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a co-sponsor of the legislation, said Tuesday. "So as long there's progress, the progress is meaningful and visible, there may not need to be a vote. I think it will depend on the developments ongoing over the next days and weeks."

More than a dozen Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, have signed onto the sanctions legislation. Several of them maintain that new penalties would increase pressure on Iran to make concessions and fully dismantle its entire nuclear program. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Over the weekend, the U.S. and its five negotiating partners — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — secured a deal with Iran spelling out how the Islamic republic will scale back its uranium enrichment program, halt progress at a plutonium plant and open up key sites to daily inspectors beginning next week. In exchange, world powers outlined how they will phase in $7 billion worth of relief from international sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.

Lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration for details about the full agreement, which hasn't been made public.

"My belief is we need to give diplomacy a chance," Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told reporters. "I'm a strong supporter of the current sanctions and I'm very willing to vote for additional sanctions if negotiations falter, but right now we're in the midst of the first serious discussion with them in a very long time about ending their quest for nuclear weapons."

No vote is expected in the Senate this week and lawmakers are in recess next week.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Secretary of State John Kerry has told Congress that new sanctions would undercut the negotiations and added, "I believe the secretary of state."

Not all Republicans are on board. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he is still looking at the legislation.