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Leahy Opposed, Sanders Undecided On New Iran Sanctions

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (second from right) shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after an interim nuclear agreement was reached in Geneva in November.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy says he won’t support increasing sanctions on Iran during the current round of negotiations on that country’s nuclear program.

But Senator Bernie Sanders says he hasn’t ruled it out despite White House opposition.

Key senators from both sides of the aisle are pushing for more sanctions by Christmas, but President Obama is warning that passing new sanctions now threatens negotiations in the wake of a breakthrough interim agreement reached last month with Iran.

Leahy, the Senate’s senior member, agrees.  “If we were to impose additional sanctions right now, there’s no question Iran would walk away, just as we would in a similar situation,” he says.

Leahy says he isn’t ruling out supporting further sanctions in the future.

Some lawmakers say Iran should be required to largely dismantle its nuclear program as part of a long term agreement. Leahy believes Iran is entitled to a peaceful program as long as proper monitoring safeguards are in place.

“I don’t know how you say any country cannot have a peaceful nuclear program,” he says.

Senator Bernie Sanders agrees that with a strong inspection program in place, Iran could be permitted to operate a domestic non-military nuclear program.

Unlike Leahy, Sanders has yet to decide whether or not to support more sanctions during the current round of negotiations.

“Clearly the sanctions have brought Iran to the table,” Sanders explains. “But if increased sanctions end up driving them from the table, helping the hard liners in Iran that would be negative.  How much more of the sanctions we can do is a question I just don’t know all the answers to right now.”

Sanders and Leahy say they haven’t yet had the opportunity to study the interim six month agreement reached between Iran and the U.S. and its negotiating partners.

The agreement has been criticized by those in Congress who feel it doesn’t demand enough from Iran in exchange for some sanctions relief.