A member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday said the U.S. needs to make sure it gives the current diplomatic initiative with Iran a solid chance before passing a new sanctions bill that could cause talks to fail.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said the U.S. has an obligation to those who would be doing the fighting in a U.S. war with Iran to try and resolve the issue over Iran's nuclear program diplomatically.
"I'll state on the record right now that if there's no other way to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon than for us to engage in military action -- hopefully with others -- I'm going to vote 'yes' on that," Kaine said. "But in order for us to vote yes on that, we've got to be able to look our allies, and our citizens, and especially the men and women we would ask to fight that battle ... in the eye and tell them we exhausted every diplomatic effort prior to undertaking that significant step."
"Let's make this negotiation about Iran's good faith, let's not make it about ours," he said.
Kaine made his comments during a committee hearing on Tuesday where administration officials continued to argue that passing a tough new sanctions bill while a six-month diplomatic effort is underway will be counterproductive.
Kaine's message was similar to the one that President Obama delivered in his State of the Union address in which he vowed to impose stricter sanctions should the diplomatic measures the U.S. is taking with Iran fail.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said any unilateral action by the U.S. at this time could splinter the international group that made the talks possible.
The Joint Plan of Action, worked out between the U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany on one side and Iran on the other, offers Iran relief against some longstanding economic sanctions in return for them working out a deal to ensure that its nuclear program is not a weapons program.
"One of the reasons the sanctions ... have been as effective as they've been is because people have climbed on board with us," Sherman said. Some governments are supporting the current effort even though they oppose unilateral actions, but are waiting to see how diplomacy works out.
"If we in fact don't give negotiations a chance, they have less of incentive to stay on board with that sanctions regime and we could unwittingly create a rupture in that sanctions enforcement."
Backers of the Senate bill that threatens Iran with even tougher sanctions in the event the diplomatic effort fails say the legislation would strengthen President Obama's hand during the negotiations.
But critics say the legislation includes a kind of poison pill intended to derail the negotiations before they have a chance to succeed. One part of the legislation would bar Iran from any enrichment of uranium, even as part of a peaceful program.
The Non Proliferation Treaty, which Iran signed, does not prohibit any nation from enriching uranium as part of a nuclear program. Critics of the Senate bill say Iran would have to reject such a demand, which would then mean harsher sanctions and a greater likelihood of a conflict at some point.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the foreign relations committee, bristled at one point during the hearing at allegations by some that those supporting the new sanctions bill are war-mongers or fear mongers.
The Senate bill was introduced by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and currently has 59 co-sponsors, among them key Democrats such as Menendez and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Israeli officials, as well as pro-Israel lobbyists and supporters in the U.S., have made no secret of the fact they oppose any deal that would allow Iran to continue any kind of nuclear program.
Obama said during the State of the Union last month that he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.