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Iran sanctions bill update: full speed ahead

Iran sanctions bill update: full speed ahead

Despite the rapidly evolving situation on the ground in Iran, the Senate is planning to move forward with its Iran sanctions legislation, multiple Hill sources tell The Cable.

The Obama administration has been tweaking its rhetoric about sanctions, shying away from the broad measures found in the umbrella bill led by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT, and a companion bill by Rep. Howard Berman, D-CA. Those bills both include measures that could affect large swaths of the Iranian population by restricting such things as refined petroleum exports to the country.

But with increasing disparity between the Iranian regime and the Iranian population, the administration’s appetite for sanctions that have broad consequences for the Iranian economy seems to be waning. "If we can create a sanctions track that targets those who actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Honolulu, "But all that is yet to be decided upon.”

In fact, the administration had been negotiating with key Senators, including Foreign Relations head John Kerry, D-MA, before Christmas, trying to work out issues such as how to exempt foreign countries that help the U.S. sanctions effort. Kerry, Dodd, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, promised before their break to move the bill in January.

So what’s the status? All systems go, according to Frederick Jones, spokesman for the Foreign Relations Committee.

"The Senator and Majority Leader Reid made their intentions plain in their Christmas Eve statement and they’ve committed to follow through with the plans they announced," he told The Cable.

Other Hill aides said that negotiations between the Senators and the administration seem to have tapered off and the bill will probably come to the Senate floor largely in its current state. That’s not to say that an eleventh-hour amendment won’t come to address some White House concerns.

But the appetite for movement on sanctions is hungrier on Capitol Hill than in Foggy Bottom and there is a lot of pressure on Reid and Kerry to move the bill, which has over 75 co-sponsors, in short order, no matter how fast or furious the administration decides to be with their "pressure track" for Iran.

"We are on track. At least in the Congress there remains very strong commitment," said one Senate aide involved in the discussions, "This train is going to leave the station very, very soon."

Reid could try to pass the bill by unanimous consent to prevent the issue from eating up precious floor time, but that has failed once before so a public debate could be in the offing.

Despite their differences, the passage of the Senate bill doesn’t necessarily conflict with the White House’s plans for Iran sanctions because the administration has enough wiggle room to use whichever part of the bill they see as important. In fact, some argue having wider sanctions authorized might make the more targeted sanctions more effective.

"There’s nothing incompatible with wielding targeted sanctions while still having the option of broader actions as authorized by Congress," the aide said, "For better or worse, the administration is not going to sanction anyone they don’t want to sanction."

And although there is wide bipartisan support for moving an Iran bill in the Senate, there is an underlying current of pressure on the Democratic leadership to come through with their commitment to move the bill or face harsh public criticism from the Republican side.

If Reid and Kerry try to stall the bill or water it down significantly, "We’re only too happy to have a floor fight about that," said one senior GOP Senate aide.