By Mark Landler & Jonathan Weisman
January 14, 2014
WASHINGTON — With the United States and Iran about to embark on a critical phase of nuclear talks, President Obama is waging an intense rear-guard action to prevent Senate Democrats from supporting strict new sanctions that could upend his diplomatic efforts.
Sponsors of the bill, which would aim to drive Iran’s oil exports down to zero, have secured the backing of 59 senators, putting them within striking distance of a two-thirds majority that could override Mr. Obama’s threatened veto. Republicans overwhelmingly support the bill. So far 16 Democrats have broken with the president, and the bill’s sponsors hope to get more.
The struggle is casting a long shadow over the talks, which administration officials say will be even harder than those that resulted in the six-month interim agreement, signed Sunday, that will temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program in return for limited sanctions relief.
Iranian officials have threatened to leave the bargaining table if the United States enacts any new sanctions during the negotiations.
The White House has cast the issue in stark terms, saying that a vote for new sanctions would be, in effect, a “march toward war” and challenging those lawmakers who support the bill to acknowledge publicly that they favor military action against Iran.
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