Top Senator Wants Sanctions in Place If Iran Deal Fails

A top Democratic senator wants Congress to begin work on a new round of Iranian sanctions, even though a temporary pact on Iran’s nuclear program has been reached.

The White House believes that new sanctions on Iran could undercut the fragile agreement between Iran, the United States and other world powers. But Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, is skeptical of the “modest” agreement and wants a contingency plan in place.

“I think that there is an opportunity here to continue the diplomatic track and hopefully have success with it, but at the same time prospectively be ready for a round of sanctions that would be implemented if there is no agreement,” he said Monday during an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to halt development of its controversial nuclear program and to allow international monitors to inspect the nation’s nuclear facilities. In exchange, the U.S. and other nations will temporarily lift sanctions, which add up to close to $7 billion in relief.

Menendez doesn’t think the U.S. got enough in return for lifting its sanctions on a provisional basis because Iran is not forced to dismantle their nuclear capabilities.

“The only reason they are at the table today is because of the sanctions I and others have offered,” he said.

The White House, however, says that acting on additional sanctions now could torpedo the diplomatic process entirely.

“The concern is that rather than capitalizing on the diplomatic window that’s opened up, doubling down on sanctions at this point would actually undermine the international coalition that we built,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Sunday.

Menendez says he would prefer to pass a sanctions package that would not go into effect until the six-month window for the world powers and Iran to negotiate a long-term deal closes. There is bipartisan support in Congress for additional sanctions, but leaders have not said whether they will hold a vote.

The New Jersey senator said it’s important to act soon. Iran could develop a nuclear weapon within four to six weeks of negotiations collapsing, according to Menendez, and new sanctions could take months to implement.

“Clearly the White House has the view that they are moving in the right direction. And they also would like to see no further actions while we’re waiting,” he said. “The problem is that if six months pass and … we don’t achieve the ultimate goal, then it will be too late to begin a new round of sanctions.”