Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., one of the sponsors of the forthcoming sanctions bill

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., one of the sponsors of the forthcoming sanctions bill Susan Walsh/AP

Iran Sanctions Bill Gains Steam in the Senate

The Nuclear Weapon-Free Iran Act now has 48 sponsors, according to Senate staffers. By Global Security Newswire

Insiders say a new Iran-sanctions proposal has picked up more backing since its introduction in the Senate last month, Reuters reports.

Forty-eight senators are now co-sponsoring the Nuclear Weapon-Free Iran Act, up from the initial 26 who backed the bill before Congress broke for its holiday recess, a staffer in the chamber said on Monday.

"Expect that number [of sponsors] to keep growing over [the] next couple of days as folks who were out of town and staff get back in," the source said.

It is still unclear, though, whether the legislation could amass the 67 Senate backers necessary to overcome a promised presidential veto. The White House has threatened to block the bill on grounds that it could endanger efforts to secure enduring restrictions on Iran's disputed atomic program. Tehran maintains that its atomic efforts are strictly peaceful, but Washington and its allies fear the activities could lead to development of an Iranian nuclear-weapon capability.

(Related: Forget the Nuclear Details and End This Cold War With Iran)

The European Union on Monday confirmed plans for one of its diplomats to represent the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany in negotiations with Iran later this week, the Wall Street Journal reported. EU deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid is slated to meet with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi for the talks, which a Western government insider said could start on Thursday and go until Friday.

The meeting would focus on launching enforcement of an interim atomic accord reached by the participants in November. The Obama administration hopes the six-month deal will help negotiators hammer out longer-term restrictions on the Iranian efforts.

The sides soon intend to pursue "further contacts" with an eye to putting the short-term arrangement into effect, an EU spokesman indicated. Western government sources said it is still uncertain if the planned talks would take place between technical specialists or more senior-ranking diplomats.