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U.S. Senate makes move toward vote on new Iran sanctions bill

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to the media following a Senate cloture vote on budget bill on Capitol Hill in Washingt
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to the media following a Senate cloture vote on budget bill on Capitol Hill in Washingt

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has begun a process that could allow the Senate to vote as soon as next month to impose new sanctions on Iran if talks on its nuclear program fail, Senate aides said on Friday, despite a White House veto threat.

Aides and lawmakers said Reid had filed Rule 14 for the sanctions bill, which allows him to bypass the normal process of bringing a bill for a Senate vote through committee.

A spokesman for Reid did not respond to requests for comment.

Reid's action sets the stage for a potential battle between more than 25 Republican and Democratic senators who are co-sponsoring the new Iran sanctions legislation and the Obama administration and its supporters in Congress, including the Democratic heads of 10 Senate committees.

The bill introduced on Thursday would require reductions in Iran's petroleum production and apply new penalties to other industries if Iran violates an interim agreement or fails to reach a final comprehensive agreement.

But it also gives the administration up to a year to pursue a diplomatic track, which backers of the bill said would not violate terms of the interim deal.

The Obama administration has insisted that the bill would disrupt delicate talks being held between Tehran and world powers. Iran's foreign minister has said a new sanctions law would kill the interim agreement reached in Geneva on November 24.

A White House spokesman threatened a veto if it passed.

Obama accused Congress of playing politics at a White House news conference on Friday, where he said he would back lawmakers in passing new sanctions "in a day, on a dime" if talks failed, but said more now would be counterproductive.

"If we're serious about negotiations we've got to create an atmosphere in which Iran is willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them and contrary to their ideology and rhetoric and their suspicions of us," Obama said.

Backing the administration, the Senate Banking Committee did not to move ahead with a sanctions package passed by the House of Representatives in July.

The panel's chairman, Tim Johnson, was one of 10 Democratic Senate committee leaders who wrote to Reid asking to be consulted before moving ahead with the new sanctions bill.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Reid had not consulted the committee leaders.

"This is not a positive thing to do at this particular point in time," Feinstein told Reuters. She said negotiations are working and called the bill "a clear provocation."

The bill's backers, including Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insist that it would strengthen the U.S. hand in negotiations, by warning Tehran it would face more crippling sanctions if negotiations to curb its nuclear program falter.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, editing by G Crosse)

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