WASHINGTON (JTA) — The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said it was “essential” for Congress to pass new Iran sanctions now that a deadline for nuclear talks has been extended.
“Congress delayed enacting additional sanctions over the past year to give negotiations a chance,” AIPAC said in a statement Monday after the world powers and Iran announced in Vienna that talks would be extended until June 30.
“It is now essential that Congress take up new bipartisan sanctions legislation to let Tehran know that it will face much more severe pressure if it does not clearly abandon its nuclear weapons program,” the pro-Israel lobbying group said. “We urge Congress to play its traditional and critical role to ensure that a final agreement truly eliminates any path for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.”
AIPAC backed enhanced sanctions earlier this year but dropped its active lobbying for them once it became clear that the Democratic-led Senate would not allow sanctions to pass.
The sanctions as then outlined would only kick in should Iran violate the terms of the interim agreement governing the nuclear talks or walk away from the talks. But the Obama administration opposed the sanctions, saying they would scuttle delicate negotiations.
Leaders of the Republican majority in the incoming Senate have said they will not oppose any new attempt to pass the sanctions, although reaching a filibuster-proof majority is unlikely without bipartisan support.
In a statement Monday almost simultaneous with the AIPAC statement, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, suggested that he would back a bid to pass new sanctions.
“The cycle of negotiations, followed by an extension, coupled with sanctions relief for Iran has not succeeded,” Menendez said.
“I continue to believe that the two-track approach of diplomacy and economic pressure that brought Iran to the negotiating table is also the best path forward to achieve a breakthrough,” he said. “I intend to work with my Senate colleagues in a bipartisan manner in the coming weeks to ensure that Iran comprehends that we will not ever permit it to become a threshold nuclear state.”
Menendez was one of the lead sponsors of this year’s enhanced sanctions bill, but pulled back under pressure from the Senate Democratic leadership.
The Republican lead cosponsor, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), pledged to revive the new sanctions legislation.
“Now more than ever, it’s critical that Congress enacts sanctions that give Iran’s mullahs no choice but to dismantle their illicit nuclear program and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency full and unfettered access to assure the international community’s security,” he said.