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Obama Putting Brakes on Senate Iran Sanctions Bill

Now that Rep. Howard Berman’s (D-Calif.) bill authorizing new energy-sector sanctions on Iran has passed the House, the Obama administration is looking to the Senate to cool things down. The Obama administration “didn’t tell me to go ahead, but they also didn’t tell me not to go ahead,” Berman told reporters yesterday. But the Senate is a different story. Josh Rogin reports:

Those discussions are based on a letter from Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA. In the letter, State asked Kerry to delay the Senate bill until next year so that the administration would have more time to prep for the “pressure track” and also to secure some changes to the legislation.

Kerry has sounded cautious notes on Iran sanctions for awhile. On the day that Iran’s hidden Qom enrichment facility was revealed, Kerry’s Foreign Relations Committee released a statement urging calm and deliberation before going the sanctions route: “We need to ensure that our unilateral efforts do not undermine the prospect for achieving tougher multilateral sanctions that will be most effective in bringing pressure to bear on Iran.” Members of the administration have told me the same thing, but they’ve never come out and opposed any of the congressional sanctions bills.

But Rogin reports that other senators — Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) — want the administration to clarify its concerns:

The bill as it stands gives the president the right to waive sanctions against third-party countries that are cooperating with U.S. efforts to confront Iran’s nuclear program. The administration wants those countries to be exempted from the start and then have sanctions applied only when necessary.

“The administration has not made a compelling argument as to why the waiver isn’t sufficient for them to avoid doing diplomatic harm to allies, in the case where companies within their jurisdictions are doing things that may become sanctionable,” the aide said. “That’s what the waiver is there for.”

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