Top Senate leaders promised Thursday to bring Chris Dodd's Iran sanctions legislation to the Senate floor soon after returning to town next month.
"I want everyone to know that I am committed to getting this legislation to the floor sometime after we return in January," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, said on the Senate floor just after Thursday's early morning vote on healthcare reform legislation, "It would impose new sanctions on Iran's refined petroleum sector and tighten existing US sanctions in an effort to create new pressure on the Iranian regime and help stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."
The significance of Reid's comments is that he is committing to moving the bill regardless of whether or not he can get unanimous consent from all 100 Senators, as was attempted unsuccessfully this month. It places pressure on negotiators working on the bill by telling everyone that time is of the essence.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, was playing a leading role in negotiations between Congress and the administration over the State Department's concerns about the bill, as communicated in this letter from Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. The key issue was how to exempt from the sanctions countries that cooperate with U.S. efforts to punish Iran.
"I know these discussions will be continuing during recess with the intention of reaching a mutually agreeable resolution so that this legislation can be considered as soon as possible when we get back," Kerry said.
In a Thursday morning interview with The Cable, Kerry said that an agreement with the administration was all but complete, but multiple Hill sources said that there were still key items left to be worked out.
The bill could come to the floor any time from January 19, when the Senate is scheduled to get back to business.
"This is a matter of great urgency," said Josh Block, spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, "Iran's possession of a nuclear weapons capability would be a devastating blow to America's national security interests. The US and our allies must do everything we can to prevent Iran from acquiring that capacity, and AIPAC strongly applauds the Senate's firm commitment to passing this critical sanctions bill upon their return to Washington."
Meanwhile, Kerry said he is not, after all, traveling to Iran... at least for the time being. The Cable reported last week he had pitched the idea to the White House and the Wall Street Journal followed with a similar story this morning.
"I may go sometime in the future, but I have no plans as of now," Kerry told The Cable, neither confirming or denying that he had proposed being the first senior official to publicly visit Tehran since the revolution.
"There have been a lot of discussions about Iran that I've been involved with," he said, "We talked about various ways to engage Iran and a lot of proposals have been on the table."