* Republicans: need more time to examine bill
* Senators still expect sanctions to pass, timeline unclear
(Adds comments from additional senators and aides, results of
House vote on containment)
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, May 17 U.S. Senate Republicans
blocked legislation for new economic sanctions on Iran's oil
sector on Thursday saying they needed more time to study the
bill, a surprise move that drew anger from Democrats who wanted
approval ahead of nuclear talks next week.
"I feel I've been jerked around," Democratic leader Harry
Reid said on the Senate floor after Republicans said they could
not immediately approve the bill.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said his staff did
not receive a draft of the bill until late on Wednesday night,
and needed more time to make sure it was as strong as possible.
"I don't think there is anything to be outraged about," he
told Reid on the floor. "Why don't we get to work - work out the
differences - and pass the resolution?"
Iran sanctions are politically popular and draw broad
support from both sides of the political spectrum. The delay on
the bill is one of many examples of partisan sniping that has
stalled work in Congress ahead of November's presidential and
Senators from both parties said they still expect the
sanctions will pass, although the timeline was not immediately
The House of Representatives passed a version of the bill in
December that is tougher than the Senate's in several areas.
Differences would have to be worked out in the two versions
before a final bill is sent to President Barack Obama.
The sanctions are meant to shut down any financial deals
with Iran's powerful state oil and tanker enterprises, stripping
Tehran of crucial oil revenues.
The revenues support Iran's nuclear program, which the
United States says is a cover for developing the capability to
build atomic bombs, while Iran says it is for civilian purposes.
The bill would build on penalties signed into law by Obama
in December that threatened sanctions against foreign
institutions trading with Iran's central bank.
Democrats wanted to pass the proposed penalties ahead of
talks between world powers and Iran next week in Baghdad, aimed
at ensuring Iran does not build a nuclear bomb.
'I WANT MORE ON THE TABLE'
Speaking on background, two Republican aides blamed
Democratic leadership for failing to work out differences ahead
of time. They said Reid went ahead with asking for unanimous
agreement to pass the bill without a roll-call vote knowing that
Republicans had concerns.
Two Democratic aides said the impasse came as a surprise.
Reid found out Republicans would not support the bill only
minutes before he asked for unanimous consent, one aide said.
Some Republicans said they wanted a stronger statement in
the bill that the use of U.S. military force was an option in
preventing Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
"These sanctions are great. I hope they will change Iranian
behavior. They haven't yet, and I don't think they ever will,"
said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "I want more on
The draft bill included wording to gain support from
Republican Senator Rand Paul by stating that nothing in the bill
could be construed as a declaration of war or authorization of
the use of military force against Iran or Syria.
Paul had blocked the bill in March over that issue.
Many senators, Democrats and Republicans, back a proposed
resolution to reject the idea of "containment" of Iran if it
does get the ability to make a bomb. Containment was the U.S.
Cold War policy of containing, or checking, Soviet influence.
Democrats agreed to hold a separate vote on that resolution.
"Don't hold the sanctions legislation hostage," said Senator
Robert Menendez, a Democrat and co-author of the bill, urging
senators to pass the measure before leaving for the weekend.
The House on Thursday voted 401-11 to reject the idea of
Opponents said the resolution by Republican Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,
made war with Iran more likely by stating that containment of a
nuclear-capable Iran would not be good enough.
"What? We haven't had enough wars?" demanded Representative
Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, in debate on the issue earlier in
the week. "At a time when the U.S. is engaging in its first
successful direct talks with Iran for years, it is more critical
than ever for Congress to support these negotiations."
But Representative Howard Berman, also a Democrat, countered
that the non-binding resolution simply expressed determination
to prevent Iran from getting a bomb.
"It in no way can be interpreted as an authorization for use
of military force," Berman said.
Israel insists that military action against Iran would be
warranted to prevent it from reaching nuclear weapons
capability, as opposed to when it actually builds a device.
The Obama administration has not embraced that idea. Obama,
who has asserted that military action remains a last resort if
sanctions and diplomacy fails, has only said that Iran must not
be allowed to develop or acquire a nuclear weapon.
The sanctions bill had support from the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby group.
U.S. officials have said that while Iran may be maneuvering
to keep its options open, there is no clear intelligence that
the country has made a final decision to pursue a nuclear bomb.
(Additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai, Timothy Gardner and
Susan Cornwell in Washington and Jonathan Saul in London;
Editing by Russell Blinch and Vicki Allen)