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Fate of Iran Sanctions Bill Rests Largely With Reid

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
More than any single lawmaker, Reid has kept the Iran sanctions bill at bay.

“Las Vegas is not the west side of LA or New York or something like that,” the aide said. “Outside of those small communities that are very much gripped by this issue, most Americans want to see these negotiations succeed.”

Question of Timing

At the same time, said Robin Wright, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, events such as the implementation agreement on the six-month deal reached between Iran, the United States and a group of other countries have slowed the Hill momentum overall.

“Timing is everything,” Wright said. “And the agreement in Geneva this month makes it harder for hardliners in both Washington and Tehran to push against diplomacy at the exact moment it’s beginning to look possible.”

That unhurried climate to act on a sanctions bill could change dramatically if Iran fails to implement the terms of the interim accord or if negotiations for a final agreement collapse. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Senate supporters seized on an interview that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave to CNN last week while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In the interview, Rouhani was asked if Iran would destroy its centrifuges. “Not under any circumstances,” Rouhani replied.

Under the interim accord, Iran must halt its production of 20 percent enriched uranium and give up its stockpile of the enriched nuclear fuel. The accord does not require Iran to destroy centrifuges. In the negotiations for a final agreement, the United States and five major powers want Iran to reduce the number of its 19,000 centrifuges as a way to limit its nuclear enrichment program.

Nonetheless, bill backers want to put their stamp on the final agreement — the legislation includes a provision whereby Congress could pass a resolution of disapproval on the final deal and trigger the sanctions — and have cited Rouhani’s remarks as evidence that he’s not serious about important concessions.

“Rouhani has to worry about his hardliners at home, just like Reid does,” said Doug Bloomfield, AIPAC’s former legislative director and a frequent critic of the organization.

Bill Prospects

Though momentum has stalled for a Senate vote on the Iran sanctions bill, Bloomfield notes that AIPAC has positioned itself well as Obama pursues a final Iran nuclear accord.

“They’ve already got 59 co-sponsors,” he said. “The administration and Reid are on notice. That’s not chopped liver.”

While some observers see the momentum for the bill as having stalled, others contend that it will continue to build over time, owing to some national opinion polls that point to Obama’s position weakening and damaging remarks from Iranian officials.

Reid “is responsible for keeping the chamber Democratic in the fall and I think he knows that the longer he puts off a vote, the more politically untenable his position becomes,” said a senior Senate aide.

The stance by Rouhani “bolsters the case for this legislation as possibly the last best hope to pressure the Iranians to dismantle their nuclear program before military action becomes the only available option,” the aide said. “Clearly, without the threat of future sanctions, Iran will not dismantle its infrastructure, which means either Iran one day gets the bomb or targeted military strikes destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure first.”

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