Berman holds Iran sanctions law for now

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A key congressman said he would block Iran sanctions legislation while President Obama reaches out to Iran.

“I fully support the administration’s strategy of direct diplomatic engagement with Iran, and I have no intention of moving this bill though the legislative process in the near future,” U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said of a pending Iran sanctions bill.

Instead, he said, “the purpose of my bill is to demonstrate to one and all — but particularly to the Iranian regime — the importance that the U.S. Congress places on the Iranian nuclear issue.”

The bill will still gather co-sponsors even as it is held in committee; signing by a majority of House members would be a measure of the political backing for sanctions. In the previous Congress, similar sanctions gathered overwhelming support.

Obama has pledged to combine sanctions with outreach in his bid to have Iran end its suspected nuclear weapons program. His top Iran strategist, Dennis Ross, has yet to make public the administration’s plan.

Berman said he hoped he never would have to advance the legislation and that Iran at last would comply with the "repeatedly expressed demand of the international community to verifiably suspend its uranium enrichment program and to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons once and for all."

Berman joined other House Democratic leaders in a letter sent in March to Obama that supported engagement but said it must not be "open-ended."

"Iran must verifiably suspend its uranium enrichment program within at most a few months of the initiation of discussions," said that letter, whose lead signatory was the House majority leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Berman’s bill borrows language from one already under consideration, introduced in April by U.S. Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), as well as a similar bill introduced in the Senate this week by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

The bill grants the president the ability to ban U.S. dealings with any entity that deals with Iran’s energy sector. Its "findings" — the introductory section that sets the tone of the bill — quote heavily from Obama’s campaign pledges to sanction Iran.

Any such bill must past review by Berman’s committee; his pledge to hold it effectively stymies it for now.

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