Keeping up with the Iran Negotiations

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Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, will be holding informal talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other negotiating teams on the sidelines of World Economic Forum this week in Davos, Switzerland. Yet the real negotiating is going on around Capitol Hill, where the newly-sworn in 114th Congress is proposing new legislation around the talks. Three different pairs of Senators are proposing new bills:

  • Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) will be introducing a bill similar to what they introduced last year, the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2013, which was co-sponsored by 59 Senators but never voted on due to opposition from Senate Democratic leadership and the Obama Administration. The bill, while not yet introduced, is expected to levy new sanctions on Iran should an agreement on its nuclear program not be reached by June 30, 2015.
  • Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) are also expected to introduce a bill. Their legislation would mandate that Congress approves any final nuclear agreement with Iran, should one be reached.
  • And just yesterday, the unlikely couple of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) announced that they would work together to create a bill that would serve as an alternative to the expected Kirk-Menendez bill. Boxer and Paul’s bill would allow for Congress to quickly enact new sanctions should Iran violate an agreement.

These three bills make for a dizzying political landscape, and with any dizzying political landscape, there has been a lot of talk in Washington about who would support which bill. At the State of the Union on Tuesday night, President Obama threatened to veto any bill imposing new sanctions on Iran, an indirect reference to the Kirk-Menendez bill. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has supported the sanctions legislation, although there have been reports that the Mossad, one of Israel’s intelligence agencies, has expressed criticism of the bill to U.S. Senators due to fears about new sanctions making an agreement with Iran less likely.

In a letter to Senators Kirk and Menendez and a letter to President Obama on Tuesday, Reform Movement leaders reiterated our concern about Iran’s nuclear program and urged Congress and the President to work together to prevent a nuclear Iran.

This next week will be an important one as Senators decide which versions of the bill to support, and the RACblog will continue to keep you updated as the Senate votes on each of the proposals.