The U.S. Senate Banking Committee voted 18-4 on Thursday to advance a bill that would toughen sanctions on Iran if international negotiators fail to reach an agreement on Tehran's nuclear program by the end of June.
However, the bill is not expected to come for a vote in the full Senate until at least March 24, after a group of senators, in the face of President Barack Obama's threat to veto the measure, reached an agreement to hold off for two months to allow time to reach a diplomatic solution.
Only four Democrats – Senators Sherrod Brown, Jack Reed, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren – voted against the bill sponsored by Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez.
The other six joined the panel's 12-member Republican majority to pass it.
“This legislation has been carefully calibrated to achieve our ultimate goal, which is to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapon capability,” Menendez said.
He said he expected that if the measure is brought up in the full Senate “at the right time,” it would pass with broad bipartisan support.
Brown had called on committee members to wait until June to pass any more sanctions, reflecting intense debate in Congress about how lawmakers should best seek to influence the international talks on Iran's nuclear program.
After more than 18 months of negotiations, the United States, Britain, China, France,Germany and Russia have agreed with Iran to try to reach a political understanding by the end of March, with a view to a full-blown deal by a self-imposed June 30 deadline.