Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that the Senate will proceed to considering new legislation to place sanctions against Iran after the two-week Thanksgiving break, giving the administration space to hammer out a deal during negotiations in Geneva this week.
"The Senate must be prepared to move forward with a new bipartisan Iran sanctions bill when the Senate returns after the Thanksgiving recess, and I am committed to do so," Reid said Thursday morning before launching into the debate over whether to use the "nuclear option" to change filibuster rules.
Negotiations are scheduled to run through Nov. 22, but could be extended.
Reid said it's critical for the Senate to "leave our legislative options open" if the P5+1 negotiations are not successful.
"A number of senators have offered their own amendments on Iran in the defense authorization bill, and I know that other senators also have their own sanctions bills. I will support a bill that would broaden the scope of our current petroleum sanctions, place limitations on trade with strategic sectors of the Iranian economy that support its nuclear ambitions, as well as pursue those who divert goods to Iran," Reid said.
"While I support the administration's diplomatic effort, I believe we need to leave our legislative options open to act on a new, bipartisan sanctions bill in December, shortly after we return," Reid added.
The State Department welcomed Reid's decision to wait until after negotiations to enact new sanctions.
"We are pleased that Senator Reid - Leader Reid is holding off on additional sanctions legislation until after the current round of negotiations are completed," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during today's press briefing. "We hope that Leader Reid will continue to give the president and our P-5 plus one negotiating partners the space they need to pursue these negotiations in the future if necessary. "
If there's no deal in Geneva this week, it's unclear whether the administration will continue to ask for a "pause" in sanctions.
"About what would happen after a next round - I don't want to speculate on that. We'll see where we are and if we need to ask for more space to pursue the negotiations or where we are - after the next round," Psaki said, when asked whether the administration's view on sanctions hinges on what happens in Geneva in the coming days.
But if the talks "fail," broadly speaking, the administration would be "leading the charge" for more sanctions, Psaki said.
A bipartisan group of senators said they are determined to pass bipartisan legislation regarding sanctions against Iran in the near future.
"A nuclear weapons capable Iran presents a grave threat to the national security of the United States and its allies and we are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring this capability. We will work together to reconcile Democratic and Republican proposals over the coming weeks and to pass bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation as soon as possible," the senators wrote.
The senators signing onto the statement included U.S. Senators John McCain, R-Ariz.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Robert Casey, D-Pa.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Richard Blumenthal, R-Conn.; Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; and Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
Later in the day, Corker, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a bill which lays out a plan for what a final agreement should be and restricts any type of sanction relief on Iran until they eliminate the threat of its nuclear program.
"Many of us have concerns that an interim agreement in Geneva will diminish U.S. leverage without Iran meeting its existing international obligations. That outcome could result in the interim deal becoming the final deal, legitimizing Iran's enrichment activities in violation of numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions," Corker said.
"Whatever the outcome in Geneva may be this week, I'm hopeful the Senate will work in a bipartisan fashion to strengthen the position of the U.S. in these negotiations so we can reach a final status agreement that will prevent the Iranians from ever developing a nuclear weapon," he added.
The Senate is heading into a two-week break and returns to work in early December.