Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama appears to have prevailed, for now, in a campaign to stop Congress from imposing new sanctions on Iran he fears could derail nuclear diplomacy.
Several Democratic senators who previously backed a bipartisan sanctions bill publicly stepped back after Obama threatened a veto during his State of the Union address Tuesday.
Several sources familiar with behind-the-scenes maneuvring say a number of other Democratic senators signed up for more sanctions had privately recoiled from a damaging vote against their own president.
According to some counts in recent weeks, the measure had 59 likely votes, including 16 Democrats, and was even approaching a two-thirds veto-proof majority in the 100-seat Senate.
But latest developments appear to have checked that momentum.
“I am strongly supporting the bill but I think a vote is unnecessary right now as long as there’s visible and meaningful progress” in the Iran negotiations, Senator Richard Blumenthal told AFP, after expressing reservations earlier this month.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons made a similar declaration at a post-State of the Union event hosted by Politico.
“Now is not the time for a vote on an Iran sanctions bill,” he said.
Another Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin, hopes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will not bring it up.
“I did not sign it with the intention that it would ever be voted upon or used upon while we’re negotiating,” Manchin told MSNBC television.
“I signed it because I wanted to make sure the president had a hammer if he needed it and showed him how determined we were to do it and use it if we had to.”
The White House mounted an intense campaign against a bill it feared would undermine Tehran’s negotiators with conservatives back home or prompt them to ditch diplomacy.
Obama aides infuriated pro-sanctions senators by warning the measure could box America into a march to war to halt Tehran’s nuclear program if diplomacy died.
The campaign included a letter to Reid from Democratic committee chairs urging a vote be put off.
Another letter was orchestrated from a group of distinguished foreign policy experts.
Multi-faith groups weighed in and coordinated calls from constituents backing Obama on nuclear diplomacy poured into offices of key Democrats.
The campaign appears for now to have overpowered the pro-sanctions push by hawkish senators and the Israel lobby, whose doubts on the Iran nuclear deal mirror those of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican co-sponsor of the legislation, said: “It looks like we’re kind of frozen in place.”
Those behind the anti-sanctions campaign though privately concede they may have won a battle, not a war.