The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

November 24, 2013

Congress plans tough Iran sanctions if deal fails

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from both parties said Sunday they are skeptical that Iran will stick to a new nuclear deal and want Congress to prepare beefed-up economic penalties to hit Tehran if the accord falls apart.

In an early morning announcement, Tehran agreed Sunday to a six-month pause of its nuclear program while diplomats continue talks aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. International observers are set to monitor Iran's nuclear sites and ease about $7 billion of the crippling economic sanctions.

But the announcement, after months of secret face-to-face talks between the United States and Iran, left many U.S. lawmakers deeply doubtful of the most significant agreement between Washington and Tehran after more than three decades of estrangement. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said Sunday he would work with colleagues to have sanctions against Iran ready "should the talks falter or Iran fail to implement or breach the interim agreement."

Such distrust that Iran was negotiating in good faith ran across political parties that are otherwise deeply divided. And ready-to-go sanctions seemed to have rare bipartisan support across both of Congress' chambers.

The House in July passed its latest round of sanctions against Iran with backing from both parties, but the measure stalled in the Senate.

President Barack Obama convinced Senate leadership to hold off consideration of the measure while negotiators pursued an agreement. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada agreed to the request but said his chamber would take up new sanctions in December — with or without an agreement with Iran.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, a member of his party's leadership team, said he was "disappointed" by the deal, which he called disproportional. The New York Democrat said sanctions forced Iran to negotiate and said he plans further discussions with colleagues.

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