Two Senate Democrats on Tuesday said that they oppose a new bill to place additional sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program while negotiations for a final deal are taking place, while two others signaled that they are backing away from the measure.
“At this time I do not support additional sanctions legislation because I share the views of many foreign policy experts that it could undermine the ongoing negotiations and weaken our multinational coalition,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said in a letter to constituents according to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, “ultimately making less likely our goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who said last month that any new sanctions on Iran while talks are ongoing will “empower” hard-liners in Iran, also told Sargent that he opposes the bill. “I won’t be signing on to it,” he said. ”I think it risks blowing up the negotiations or at the very least allows for countries like Russia and China to start weakening existing sanctions.”
Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) are pushing the sanctions bill despite experts and Obama administration officials arguing that it would most likely derail talks with Iran and scuttle a final deal over its nuclear program. The sanctions bill “should motivate Iranians to negotiate honestly and seriously,” Menendez said in a recent op-ed.
But Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) seemed to disagree with Menendez’s argument, telling the Minneapolis Star Tribune that while he’s not “com[ing] down on one side or the other” on the sanctions bill, “Iran knows that if this falls apart we will put extra sanctions on it. … They don’t necessarily need this bill to be voted on and passed in order to know that.”
That comment echoes what Secretary of State John Kerry recent told a House panel. “They know that if this fails sanctions will be increased. We’ve said it a hundred times. And you all have said it a hundred times and they know you’re yearning to go do it,” Kerry said. “But you don’t need to do it. It is actually gratuitous in the context of this situation.”
More surprisingly, a Democratic co-sponsor of the Kirk-Menendez bill has signaled that perhaps now is not the time for new sanctions. “I want to talk to some of my colleagues. I’m encouraged and heartened by the apparent progress and certainly the last thing I want to do is impede that progress,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said on Monday. “But at the same time, sanctions are what has brought the Iranians to the table.”
And referring to the question of whether there are enough votes to override President Obama’s promised veto, should the bill come to a vote and pass, Blumenthal said, “I don’t think we’ll need to cross that bridge.”
Blumenthal’s office did not respond to an email asking for clarification of his position.
Kirk and Menendez originally touted their bill as a bipartisan one, with 13 Democrats signing on as co-sponsors, but the issue has increasingly become a partisan one supported by Republicans, neocons and their allies. While some have noted that there’s been an “odd silence” from Democrats opposed to the sanctions, it appears that some are beginning to buck that trend, while others have been more outspoken though out.
The Hill reports that Blumenthal said on Tuesday that he does not support a vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill as long as there’s progress on the Iran talks.
“Well I think the Iran sanctions bill is meant to strengthen the president, not in any way impede the ongoing negotiations, which should and hopefully will be successful,” Blumenthal told reporters Tuesday. “So as long as there’s progress, and as long as the progress is meaningful and visible, there may not need to be a vote.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who caucuses with the Democrats, said last week that he does not support new Iran sanctions. “Clearly the sanctions have brought Iran to the table, but if increased sanctions end up driving them from the table, helping the hard-liners in Iran, that would be negative,” Sanders said in a statement.