(Corrects in last paragraph to make clear Crocker was
ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan)
* Bill has at least 54 votes, needs more to override veto
* White House opposes, says would harm talks with Iran
* No plan yet to debate on Senate floor
By Timothy Gardner and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, Jan 9 More than a majority of U.S.
senators support a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran should
the Islamic Republic break an agreement to curb its nuclear
program, aides said on Thursday, but there was no plan yet to
debate the measure.
The White House has threatened to veto the legislation,
and Iran says last November's nuclear deal struck in Geneva
would be dead if the U.S. Congress imposes new sanctions.
The "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act" is now supported by at
least 54 senators in the 100-member chamber, according to a
congressional record, with six senators joining on Wednesday. A
Senate aide said two more joined on Thursday, to bring the total
It is uncertain whether the bill will be introduced on the
Senate floor and whether backers can win the two-thirds majority
to overcome a veto by President Barack Obama.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said there were no plans yet
for advancing the bill to the Senate floor, despite the growing
list of co-sponsors.
The bill would also place sanctions on Iran if it does not
agree to a comprehensive deal later this year or next. The
United States and five other world powers agreed to a six-month
interim deal with Iran in Geneva in November, that can be
extended to a year.
Under last year's interim agreement, Iran will get access to
billions of dollars worth of funds that had been cut off by
sanctions in return for limiting enrichment of uranium.
At least 15 Democrats support the bill introduced in
December by Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Foreign
Relations Committee, and Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an advocacy
group with strong ties to many lawmakers, has said it supports
new sanctions that would take effect if Iran violates the
interim pact or does not agree to an "acceptable" comprehensive
The bill seeks to cut Iran's oil exports to zero two years
after implementation. It also puts limits on the Obama
administration's ability to waive sanctions.
There is tough resistance to the measure by many other
Democrats, however. A bloc of 10 Democratic senators, all
leaders of committees, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid last month expressing their opposition to the bill.
The aide said more support could come soon from the bloc of
Democrats. "At least two that I know of are inching toward
public support for the bill," the aide said on condition of
anonymity given the sensitivity of the talks.
There has been no public indication from any of the 10 that
they were leaning toward shifting position on the issue.
Nine senior foreign policy experts, including Ryan Crocker,
a former ambassador to Iraq and the Afghanistan, this week urged
Menendez and Kirk to not pass the new sanctions, saying they
could potentially move the United States closer to war.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Alistair
Bell and Rosalind Russell)