Senators tussle over new Iran sanctions

Story highlights

  • The Senate stops short of voting for new sanctions on Iran
  • Republicans say the final wording seems to water down the threat of military action
  • The wording will be worked on over the weekend, aides say
Republicans blocked an attempt by Senate Democrats on Thursday to pass new sanctions against Iran, complaining the final language in the bill, which they had negotiated for months, is not tough enough to deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Their objection angered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who claimed he was being "jerked around" by Republicans.
"I'm deeply disappointed my Republican colleagues are preventing the Senate from passing additional critical sanctions against Iran. If they want to embarrass the president this is a strange way to do it," Reid said during a testy floor exchange with GOP leaders.
The new sanctions would target Iran's oil and banking industries, as well as other sectors.
Republicans complained Democrats provided them the final language just minutes before they were asked to approve it. Republicans said the new wording appeared to water down the threat of U.S. military action against Iran if that country developed nuclear weapons; something President Obama has said is on the table.
"I'd like to think that's an oversight in drafting and we can work this out over weekend and make this reflective of our national policy and the president's policy," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri. "But I'd be very concerned about moving to this language today."
"A little communication ought to be able to bring us together behind something we can speak to unanimously," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader. "Nothing, I think, to get angry about."
Democrats want to get the sanctions bill completed before U.N.-sponsored talks with Iran about their nuclear program that begin next week in Baghdad. Reid said the Iranians probably were watching the Senate floor exchange on television and "laughing at us. Here is the United States Senate quibbling over a sentence."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, stepped between the two parties and said an agreement was possible because the differences between the two sides are actually "non-existent."
"We all agree that we ought to try the sanctions, we ought to make them tough," he said. "They ought not to be watered down before the Iranians agree to stop their nuclear program. And we all agree we that we have to have the credible use of force against the Iranian nuclear program if there is any hope of the sanctions working.
"I appeal to my colleagues, let's step back, let's take a breath," Lieberman said. "Can we do it this afternoon?"
Instead, aides said later that senators will use the weekend to negotiate a solution, with the hope of getting to a vote next week.