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4 Democratic sponsors of Iran sanctions bill OK with delay

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Four Democrats say they are not opposed to delaying an Iran sanctions bill they sponsored, further undercutting its prospects of advancing while talks on Iran’s nuclear weapons program take place.

President Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday night said he would veto the bill, which he said could scuttle talks now underway between the major powers and Iran aimed at keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

In the wake of his speech, two of the bill’s 16 Democratic sponsors, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), said in remarks reported by the Huffington Post that they opposed advancing the bill now. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he would defer to the party’s leadership on the matter.

Another sponsor, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), already has said he opposes advancing the legislation while talks are underway.

The bill has been stuck for weeks at 59 co-sponsors, eight short of the 67 that would be needed to override an Obama veto.

Its initiators, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (D-Ill.), have been pressing for its passage, saying additional sanctions would strengthen the West’s hand at the talks. Backing Kirk and Menendez is much of the mainstream pro-Israel community, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

A key obstacle has been signing on additional Democrats as sponsors – all but two Republicans are co-sponsors, and much of the Democratic leadership is against advancing it now.

The fact that four Democratic cosponsors are against bringing it forward now, or are not opposed to delaying it, suggests the momentum is against its passage anytime soon.

The Israel Project released a poll Tuesday showing that public support for the new sanctions spikes once respondents hear it has majority support in the Senate.

Asked if sanctions should be strengthened, reduced or kept as is, 38 percent preferred to keep them in place and 14 percent said they should be reduced. That made for a majority of 52 percent opposed to strengthened sanctions, while 39 percent backed strengthened sanctions.

Later in the same survey, when respondents are told that the new sanctions legislation has the backing of 59 senators, 78 percent say they favor it while 15 percent are opposed.

The poll, conducted by the Mellman Group, which is associated with Democrats, also shows low approval ratings of Obama’s handling of relations with Iran and deep distrust of Iran.

Just 30 percent of respondents believed Obama had done an excellent or good job of dealing with the country, while 66 percent said he had done a poor or “only fair” job.

Asked which countries they trust to abide by agreements with the United States, 83 percent said they did not trust Iran, second only to the 90 percent who said they did not trust North Korea, out of eight countries named.

Conversely, 79 percent said they trusted Israel, behind 94 percent who said they trusted Britain.

The poll of 800 likely voters conducted Jan. 21-23 had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

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