U.S. Republicans vow amendments that might risk Iran nuclear bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Republican senators pledged on Thursday to try to toughen a bill giving Congress the power to review a nuclear agreement with Iran, raising the possibility of a partisan battle that could complicate the measure’s chances of passing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to his office ahead of party policy lunch meetings in Washington April 14, 2015. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

The Senate’s Republican Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said he expected a “vigorous debate” next week.

“Look, no piece of legislation is perfect. Senators who would like to see this bill strengthened, as I would, will have that chance during a robust amendment process that we’ll soon have,” he said in a Senate speech.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 19-0 last week for a compromise version of the “Iran Nuclear Review Act,” in a rare display of bipartisan unity in the deeply divided Congress.

Bill supporters urged that the measure go ahead to ensure lawmakers have a say on any Iran nuclear deal.

“Without this bill, there is nothing stopping the president from bypassing the American people, immediately waiving sanctions imposed by Congress and unilaterally implementing an agreement with Iran,” the bill’s author, Republican Senator Bob Corker, said as he introduced the bill in the Senate on Thursday.

Republicans and Democrats on the committee agreed to remove provisions of the legislation that worried President Barack Obama, who threatened to veto the bill as a threat to delicate nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers.

After many of his fellow Democrats joined Republicans in backing the compromise bill, the White House said Obama would sign it if it passed without major changes.

Several Republicans said they would introduce amendments likely to alienate Democrats. Those included reinstating a clause requiring Obama to certify Iran is not supporting terrorism anywhere in the world.

Others would compel Iran to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and force a nuclear agreement to be considered a treaty, needing the support of 67 senators. Republicans hold 54 seats in the Senate.

Republican Senator Jim Risch introduced an amendment requiring the release of three Americans being held in Iran, which he insisted was not a “poison pill” to kill the bill.

“The amendment requires that Iran do what any good citizen of the world should do,” he told Reuters.

Several Democrats said they would withdraw their support if the legislation became too partisan.

“I will oppose amendments, at least with my own vote, that I consider to be poisonous,” said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, a bill co-author.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle. Editing by Andre Grenon