GENEVA -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday he will support consideration of new sanctions on Iran next month, putting new pressure on the Obama administration’s efforts to negotiate a deal with Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.
Despite the White House’s appeals for at least a temporary delay in new sanctions, Reid announced on the Senate floor that he will begin moving legislation on new penalties after the chamber returns from its Thanksgiving break in early December.
He said that while he supports the administration’s diplomatic efforts, he wants to maintain pressure on Iran to acquiesce in negotiations. The talks seek to set limits on a program that, despite Tehran's denials, many countries fear is aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability.
“I believe we must do everything possible to keep Iran from getting nuclear-weapons capability,” Reid said.
Obama administration officials have been arguing that new penalties would be seen by Tehran as a sign that the U.S. and other world powers have been negotiating in bad faith. They say added sanctions could drive Iran from the talks or splinter the coalition of nations that have been supporting sanctions for the past eight years.
But many lawmakers, echoing the position of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, contend that sanctions have forced Iran to negotiate and that new punishments would make its negotiators more willing to deal.
Sanctions have enormous bipartisan support in Congress. And recently lawmakers have been under intense pressure to step up penalties, including from Israel and pro-Israel groups, which fear Iran is close to reaching a bomb-making capability.
Reid’s announcement comes at a time when Iranian officials, negotiating in Geneva with a group of six world powers that include the United States, have been complaining that they are being pushed too far.