Menendez to Administration: An Iran Sanctions Bill Is Still Coming from Congress

A leading Democratic proponent of new sanctions against Iran indicated Sunday morning that he "expects" a six-month window of time in legislation being forged over the Thanksgiving break by the Group of 14 -- but he won't give up legislation altogether as stipulated in the P5+1 agreement.

That pits the most recent past chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against the current one.

Current Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he continues "to support a two-track policy of diplomacy and sanctions with Iran."

"In my view, this agreement did not proportionately reduce Iran's nuclear program for the relief it is receiving. Given Iran's history of duplicity, it will demand ongoing, on the ground verification," Menendez said in a statement. "Until Iran has verifiably terminated its illicit nuclear program, we should vigorously enforce existing sanctions. I do not believe we should further reduce our sanctions, nor abstain from preparations to impose new sanctions on Iran should the talks fail. I will be monitoring the enforcement of existing sanctions not covered by the interim agreement to ensure they are being robustly enforced."

"I expect that the forthcoming sanctions legislation to be considered by the Senate will provide for a six month window to reach a final agreement before imposing new sanctions on Iran, but will at the same time be immediately available should the talks falter or Iran fail to implement or breach the interim agreement," he added.

However, the administration wants no passage of sanctions at all. A copy of the deal released by Iranian media in the early morning hours states "the U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions."

Secretary of State John Kerry vowed to lobby the Hill to keep its hands off Iran.

"I believe Congress will recognize that this deal actually has a great deal of benefit in it. And I look forward to going up and working with our colleagues on the Hill in order to try to persuade them that this is not the moment to increase sanctions," Kerry told ABC this morning. "I’m confident that as Congress examines what we’ve been able to achieve here, and as they measure the fact that if you didn’t do what we’re doing, they would be marching forward and putting more centrifuges in, enriching more, moving closer to a weapon. What we have done absolutely, unequivocally allows us to get into Fordow, know what they’re doing in that enrichment, stop the enrichment. And if they’re not prepared to do the things necessary to be able to have a peaceful program – truly peaceful and provable as such – then the sanctions can be turned back up, and of course, he always has every other option available to him as commander in chief."

Menendez added that it's his "fervent hope that this interim agreement leads to a final agreement with Iran that will ensure that it cannot acquire nuclear weapons capability, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions, as well as long-term access to Iran by the IAEA to detect any effort by Iran to re-start its illicit nuclear program."

Other leading Democrats on the Group of 14 were similarly wary.

“This disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “I intend to discuss that possibility with my colleagues.”

“It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table, and any reduction relieves the psychological pressure of future sanctions and gives them hope that they will be able to gain nuclear weapon capability while further sanctions are reduced,” Schumer continued. “A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said "the real test is whether a final permanent agreement rolling back Iran's nuclear capability can be achieved during this brief, six-month negotiated pause."

"Past Iranian conduct gives little cause for hope. Without strong sanctions, tough enforcement and vigilant monitoring and inspection, my fear is that even this interim agreement may encourage or embolden countries or companies that seek to exploit loopholes or weaknesses in the existing sanctions, and that is why renewed resolve is critically important to enhance enforcement," Blumenthal continued.

"Sanctions brought the Iranians to the table. Strengthening sanctions and enforcement of them is vital to create incentives and increase pressure if this interim step is unsuccessful. I believe there is a continued need for the Senate to pass even tougher sanctions. I will work with colleagues on a bipartisan bill that tightens trade and currency restrictions along with other sanctions if this interim agreement produces no progress."

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said a window of time that would allow Iran to reach nuclear weapons capability "would not be acceptable to the Congress, nor the American people, and I hope the international community."

"Are we concerned that Iran may try to circumvent this agreement? You bet we are concerned about it and we'll watch to make sure we do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen."