Menendez indictment could jeopardize anti-Iran legislation: Report
Influential US Senator Robert Menendez’s decision to step aside as ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the wake of his indictment on corruption charges could jeopardize the Republican-dominated Congress’ chances of approving an anti-Iran bill, a report says.
On Wednesday, Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, was indicted by a federal grand jury on corruption and bribery charges for using his influence to illegally benefit a Florida eye doctor.
The US Justice Department charged Menendez with using his office to improperly benefit a friend and major political donor.
The indictment forced Menendez to step aside as ranking member on the influential panel that would remove one of the Senate’s most hawkish Democrats from the committee.
Menendez, former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been one of the detractors of President Barack Obama’s administration.
He has co-authored a controversial bill with Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that would prevent President Barack Obama from removing sanctions on Iran until Congress reviews a nuclear deal, and separate legislation that would tighten sanctions on Iran if it walks away from talks.
The Senate panel is scheduled to vote on April 14 on the legislation he co-authored with Corker demanding congressional review of an Iran agreement.
With the anti-Iran Democrat senator not on the panel, the bill is unlikely to gain Democratic support that the Obama administration has already threatened to veto, the Washington-based newspaper The Hill reported on Thursday.
Corker told The Hill that he had “no knowledge of the judicial matters at hand” but said he expects Menendez “will continue to play a constructive role” on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
After Menendez, the next most senior Democrat on the influential panel is Senator Barbara Boxer, who is an ally of the president and opposes passing any anti-Iran legislation before the final July 1 deadline in the talks, the newspaper report said.
Top officials from Iran and the P5+1 – the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany – are holding negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, to reach a comprehensive deal on the Islamic Republic’s civilian nuclear program.
The talks were again held on Thursday, the eighth day of intense negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 aimed at laying the groundwork for a potentially historic agreement to resolve the Western dispute over Tehran’s nuclear energy program.
The two sides have set July 1 as the final deadline for a comprehensive agreement.