WASHINGTON -- Several top Senate Democrats who support an Iran sanctions bill sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Monday they will work with the Obama administration toward a final agreement with Iran after the White House announced a six-month deal on Sunday. But Kirk, leading the sanctions push, said the deal would lead to "more terrorism" and compared it with Neville Chamberlain ceding Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938.
The rift shows that even though the sanctions bill has an impressive 58 cosponsors in the notoriously partisan Senate, supporters see it as doing vastly different things. To Senate Democrats, sanctions would strengthen Obama's hand in negotiating a nuclear accord, though the president has threatened a veto and has warned that the bill would derail efforts to resolve Iran's nuclear program peacefully. To Kirk, if the sanctions bill fails to pass, Americans will have committed an error on par with the Munich Agreement.
Three Democrats supporting the legislation, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), downplayed any rift with Obama, who is meeting with the Democratic caucus on Wednesday. The three senators said they were trying to help.
"I don't think there is a difference between the objectives of the administration and those of us who support this legislation," said Cardin. "Both of us would like to see it done through the use of diplomacy. We think that the sanctions have worked very effectively. We think we have presented the climate that has allowed for these negotiations to get as far as they have. We want to get them to the finish line."
"I strongly support the president in these negotiations," Blumenthal told HuffPost. "I feel that they will succeed. This sanctions bill in my view strengthens the president's hand."
"There's universal agreement that we all would like the negotiation to be successful and Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon," said Bennet.
On the other hand, Kirk warned of the consequences of the interim agreement. The deal unfreezes Iranian funds overseas in exchange for Iran keeping its commitment to dilute half of its 20 percent-enriched uranium to no more than 5 percent-enriched, according to Reuters.
"There's a major question that we got to ask: As we release billions of dollars to the Iranians, are we going to get more Iranian policy? More terrorism? I would think so," Kirk said. "I think that Hezbollah is probably going to buy some new offices in Beirut with what we give them in money. That the best job in Lebanon is a real estate agent for Hezbollah with all the money that Obama releases to Iran."
Asked what would happen if the Senate did not vote on the bill until February, Kirk said that would be a huge mistake. "The American people will have committed a grievous foreign precedent similar to Neville Chamberlain giving away Czechoslovakia at the beginning of World War II," he said.
Kirk said the agreement would lead to war with Iran. "The path of appeasers always leads directly to war -- it just increases the appetite of the other side," he said. "Appeasers always lead directly to war. You can give Czechoslovakia to Hitler and he wants more. If you give billions of dollars to the Iranians, you're probably leading directly to conflict."
The White House has said Kirk's bill could lead to war. "If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so," Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday. "Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed."
Despite the support in the Senate for the bill, there is no telling when it may come to the floor for a vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not pledged to bring the bill to a vote.
"Ain't coming to the floor any time soon. No matter what Kirk and Menendez say," said a Senate Democratic aide.
Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.