November 12, 2014 / 7:15 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. lawmakers take hard line on prospective Iran deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. senators behind a tough sanctions bill against Iran said on Wednesday they would push for more penalties against Tehran if they are unhappy with any nuclear deal, signaling a potential battle with the Obama administration less than two weeks before the deadline for an agreement.

New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk said a “good deal” would require strict limits on nuclear-related research, development and procurement and a robust inspection regime for decades in Iran.

It would “dismantle, not just stall” Iran’s nuclear program, they said.

“If a potential deal does not achieve these goals, we will work with our colleagues in Congress to act decisively, as we have in the past,” Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Kirk said in a statement issued on the first day lawmakers returned from a seven-week election recess.

Senior officials from Western powers and Iran started a new round of nuclear talks in Oman on Tuesday, less than two weeks before a Nov. 24 deadline for an agreement. But with no imminent breakthrough in sight, expectations have been slipping.

A sanctions bill co-authored by Menendez and Kirk last year failed to pass only because the Senate’s Democratic leaders would not let it come up for a vote. The Obama administration had insisted that the measure threatened to blow apart the delicate talks on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Many members of Congress have been skeptical of the talks, in which Western powers are offering to ease sanctions if Iran gives up its ability to make nuclear weapons.

The Republican victory in the Nov. 4 congressional elections should make it harder to convince lawmakers to approve any sanctions relief, and easier to pass new penalties.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, asked for a response to the statement at a daily news briefing, said members of Congress do not yet know what is in an agreement because negotiations are continuing.

Separately, President Barack Obama’s administration formally informed Congress on Wednesday that a state of emergency continues to exist regarding Iran, which gives the president powers to impose sanctions and regulate trade.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Trott and Steve Orlofsky

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