The Cable

Dodd and Berman agree to give Obama more time on Iran sanctions

Despite repeated proclamations by senior leaders in both chambers of Congress and on both sides of the aisle that nothing could stop the Iran sanctions bill, its two lead sponsors announced today that they would delay the conference meant to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions. "With the progress in negotiations at ...

Despite repeated proclamations by senior leaders in both chambers of Congress and on both sides of the aisle that nothing could stop the Iran sanctions bill, its two lead sponsors announced today that they would delay the conference meant to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions.

"With the progress in negotiations at the Security Council, we believe that our overriding goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is best served by providing a limited amount of time for those efforts — and expected follow-on action by the EU at its mid-June summit — to reach a successful conclusion before we send our bill to the president," Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT, and Rep. Howard Berman, D-CA, said in a statement Tuesday.

It was only last week that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, promised to get it done before the Memorial Day recess.

"International sanctions make a lot more sense than unilateral" Dodd said at the time. "But we’re not going to retreat from the unilateral sanctions effort."

But today, Dodd and Berman claimed that last week’s unveiling of the draft U.N. sanctions resolution by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had convinced them that the Security Council process was actually making progress. They now expect to bring the conference report to be voted on by the entire Congress "in the latter half of June."

The delay represents a retreat for the lawmakers and a victory for the Obama administration, which had warned Congress that passing the bill could upset delicate U.N. negotiations. But inside the conference, serious disputes between lawmakers and the administration remain, such as whether to grant broad exemptions for countries that are deemed to be "cooperating" with the United States.

A U.N. official told The Cable that Security Council members are still pouring over the draft resolution and the reams of documents and annexes that accompany it. Those consultations are expected to go on for weeks.

Outside groups that have been pushing for the legislation, such as the American Israel Public Action Committee, were quick to say they are OK with the delay.

"AIPAC supports this decision and endorses Chairmen Dodd and Berman’s firm, public commitment to get tough, comprehensive Iran sanctions legislation on the president’s desk before the July 4th recess," the group said in a statement.

What’s not clear is whether Republicans will suffer Dodd and Berman’s delay quietly. "I didn’t see any Republican names on that statement by Dodd and Berman," one GOP congressional aide remarked.

House GOP leaders had agreed not to bring up procedural motions to protest the lack of a conference report if the bill was completed by May 28. But now Berman will have to convince them that the delay is in the best interests of getting a stronger bill whenever it’s completed.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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