WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Democratic co-sponsor of a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran if there is no agreement on its nuclear program by July said on Friday he stood by the legislation in the face of warnings that it could torpedo international negotiations.
“All I’m saying is let us put in prospective sanctions that don’t get imposed ... until July,” Senator Robert Menendez said.
Menendez was asked about Iran during an event in his home state of New Jersey after a joint news conference at the White House earlier on Friday at which President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron urged members of Congress to be patient and hold off on any legislation calling for further sanctions now.
Obama warned lawmakers not to impose new sanctions, saying such a move would upset diplomatic talks and increase the likelihood of a military conflict with Tehran.
Some lawmakers reacted angrily to those comments. Republican House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he was “offended” by Obama’s remarks, saying they seemed to insinuate that lawmakers’ concerns about Iran were driven by political considerations.
In a statement, McCarthy called on Obama to work with Congress to increase pressure on Iran.
Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime backer of tough sanctions on Iran, said he had a “fundamental disagreement” with the White House on the issue.
Arguing that Iran did not yet seem willing to make significant concessions after 18 months of negotiations, he suggested that new sanctions legislation might help convince them.
The bill Menendez is working on with Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, would impose sanctions if there is no nuclear agreement by a June 30 deadline, but also includes a provision that would allow Obama to put them off for 30 days if an agreement were imminent.
Kirk also backed action in Congress.
“If anything can stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, it is maintaining the united bipartisan front in Congress to end Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium paths to the bomb,” he said in a statement.
Editing by Eric Walsh, G Crosse