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Uranium-concentrating centrifuges at Natanz, Iran.
A week ago, it appeared that a bill to tighten the screws on Iran over its nuclear program was headed for certain success in the Senate. Initiated by Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, S. 1881—the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act—would not only have imposed new economic sanctions, it would also have committed the United States to use military force in support of Israel if that nation attacked Iran's nuclear facilities and Iran retaliated.
By last Wednesday, Menendez had 58 co-sponsors, including 15 Democrats. Talk centered on whether an additional eight could be gathered to make the bill veto-proof.
But as Steve Benen at the Rachel Maddow blog notes today, there's been a turnaround:
Just [in] the last few days, however, the odds of such a bill even reaching the president’s desk have dropped unexpectedly.
The Hill, for example, reported yesterday that House Republicans “are moving away from a proposal to adopt new Iran sanctions.” House Democrats who were otherwise sympathetic to the idea became “irked” by GOP political tactics “and the idea appears to have been at least temporarily shelved.”
Meanwhile, in the Senate, the effort to get 67 co-sponsors on board has stalled, with no new names being added since last week. And while U.S. support for new sanctions has fallen off, at least for the moment, the European Union will begin relaxing some of its sanctions next week if inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency report that Iran is complying with the restrictions agreed to by negotiators in Geneva in November.
Good news all around.
The switch in the United States can be chalked up in part to White House pressure, the 10 Senate committee chairpersons who wrote a letter opposing more sanctions and surprises like hawk Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) saying new sanctions would "blow up" the negotiations for a long-term international agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear program. The other source of opposition, Benen says a Senate staffer told him, is that "public pressure has also increased, with more voters contacting the Hill with phone calls and emails, voicing opposition to the bill."