* 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
(Adds conservative group urging Congress to act on Iran,
By Timothy Gardner and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, Jan 9 More than half 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, bringing the total
It is uncertain whether the bill will be introduced in the
Senate 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
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.
Nuclear experts from Iran and the six powers have held
several rounds of talks since the interim deal was signed to
resolve issues before it can be put into place.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said hours
before the resumption of the talks on Thursday that negotiations
had revealed U.S. enmity toward the Islamic state. Khamenei had
previously backed the deal, despite criticism from religious and
DEMOCRATIC BLOC OPPOSED
At least 16 Democrats support the bill introduced in
December by Robert Menendez, 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
There is strong 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 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.
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.
A group of 72 conservative foreign policy experts, including
Elliot Abrams, an aide to former President George W. Bush, and
former Senator Joe Lieberman, wrote a letter to congressional
leaders on Thursday urging them to act to halt Iran's nuclear
Earlier in the week, a group of nine bipartisan foreign
affairs experts including Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to
Iraq and Afghanistan, urged Menendez and Kirk not to pass the
new sanctions, saying they could potentially move the United
States closer to war.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Alistair
Bell, Rosalind Russell and Jonathan Oatis)