Iran bill debate seen in Senate by early February

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) speaks to reporters during the 14th day of the partial government shut down in Washington in this file photo taken October 14, 2013.

(Reuters) – The new chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Thursday he expected a bill addressing Iran’s nuclear program to come to the U.S. Senate floor for debate ahead of a vote in early February, if not sooner.

“I think sometime toward the end of January or the first part of February, you’ll see something being debated on the Senate floor,” Republican Senator Bob Corker told reporters at a retreat for Republican lawmakers in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Corker told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that Republican and Democratic lawmakers were pushing ahead with two pieces of legislation. One would impose more sanctions on Iran if international negotiators fail to reach an agreement by the end of June, and the other would let lawmakers weigh in on any final agreement reached by negotiators.

Iran and six world powers have renewed their quest for an elusive nuclear deal – seen as crucial to reducing the risk of a wider Middle East war – after negotiators failed for the second time in November to meet a self-imposed deadline.

The White House has argued that a new sanctions bill might endanger the delicate nuclear talks, by angering U.S. allies or prompting Iran to leave the table. The administration has also contended that there is no legal basis for Congress to approve a final agreement.

Corker became chairman of the influential committee this month after sweeping election victories gave his fellow Republicans control of the Senate. He suggested that, given Congress’ determination to be involved in the Iran issue, it would make sense for the White House to work with lawmakers.

“We just want Congress to be able to vote up or down,” the Tennessee senator told reporters in Hershey.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday he may meet with Iran’s foreign minister again this week to discuss Tehran’s nuclear program, following their roughly six hours of talks on Wednesday.

By Reuters


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