New sanctions proposal prompts White House rebuke


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan slate of 26 senators introduced legislation that would enhance Iran sanctions, prompting rebukes from the White House and leading Democratic senators.

The bill introduced Thursday would expand sanctions in part by broadening existing definitions targeting energy and banking sectors to all “strategic sectors,” which would add the engineering, mining and construction sectors.

It would tighten the definition of entities eligible for exceptions and broaden the definition of targeted individuals who assist Iran in evading sanctions.

The measure, which was backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other centrist pro-Israel groups, also would tighten the administration’s reporting requirements to Congress from every 180 days to every 90 days.

It would allow President Obama to delay its implementation for up to one year to allow him to continue talks underway between Iran and the major powers aimed at stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“AIPAC supports this vital legislation which will help bolster a peaceful and diplomatic end to the Iranian nuclear program and we appreciate the bipartisan leadership of Senators Menendez and Kirk,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said in a statement emailed to JTA. Also expressing support were the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that even with the delay, the passage of such sanctions would disrupt and could even unravel talks. The deal forged in November that launched the talks with Iran guaranteed no new sanctions.

“We don’t want to see actions that would proactively undermine American diplomacy,” he said at the daily White House briefing, adding that Obama would veto the bill were it to come to his desk.

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) initiated the bill, which likely would not advance to the floor despite backing from some Democratic leaders in the Senate. They include Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the third-ranking Democrat in the body, and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one of its most formidable fundraisers.

Opposing new sanctions is Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), the Banking Committee chairman who is among Senate leaders who decide whether sanctions bills may advance.

Johnson led a slate of 10 Democratic Senate committee chairmen who wrote to Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday opposing new sanctions, saying they “would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see negotiations fail.”

Other signatories to the letter included pro-Israel leaders in the body such as Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Intelligence Committee; Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the Appropriations Committee; and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee.

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