White House presses Senate to delay new Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON Thu Oct 24, 2013 5:37pm EDT

Iranian women shop for home utensils displayed by a vendor near a bazaar in northern Tehran December 12, 2011. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Iranian women shop for home utensils displayed by a vendor near a bazaar in northern Tehran December 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House hosted a meeting of aides to Senate committee leaders on Thursday seeking to persuade lawmakers to hold off on a package of tough new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, a senior Senate aide said.

The White House will press for another delay on a sanctions bill that had been expected to come to a vote in the Senate Banking Committee last month but was held back after appeals from President Barack Obama's administration to let negotiations on Iran's nuclear program get under way.

The aide said Republicans would resist further delay, but that the decision was in the hands of Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, the committee's chairman, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also a Democrat.

A Johnson spokesman confirmed that a meeting on Iran took place at the White House but gave no further details. A Reid spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

While Congress has sought harsher sanctions on Iran, the administration wants more time to give negotiations over Iran's nuclear program a chance. The negotiations that include six world powers are due to resume November 7-8 in Geneva.

Washington and its allies believe Tehran is developing the ability to make a nuclear weapon, but Tehran says the program is for generating power and medical devices.

Sanctions imposed in 2011 by Washington and the EU have combined to slash Iran's oil exports by more than 1 million barrels per day, depriving Tehran of billions of dollars worth of sales per month and helping to drive up inflation and unemployment.

European governments took steps on Thursday to re-impose sanctions on Iran's main cargo shipping line which, if finalized, could complicate the push to settle the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

CASE FOR SANCTIONS

U.S. senators have begun debating behind closed doors a new sanctions bill that could seek further cuts in Iran's oil exports and limit the ability of the administration to issue waivers to the sanctions.

The House overwhelmingly approved new sanctions in July that seek to cut exports to almost nothing in a year.

The White House confirmed there was a meeting with Senate aides on Thursday, but a spokeswoman would not comment on whether the administration would push for further delay in the sanctions.

"Congress has been an important partner in our efforts thus far. We will continue our close consultation, as we have in the past, so that any congressional action is aligned with our negotiating strategy as we move forward," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.

"Today's meeting is part of these ongoing consultations, following on the recent P5+1 talks with Iran," she said, referring to the six powers - the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia.

A Middle East analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations said now is not the time to delay fresh sanctions. "I don't understand why you would weaken the sanctions now, or you would not strengthen the sanctions," Elliot Abrams, an aide on the Middle East to former President George W. Bush, told the Reuters Washington Summit on Thursday. "The sanctions are what brought the Iranians to the table."

Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of State for political affairs who participated in this month's talks in Geneva, discussed Iran with members of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in a classified briefing at the Capitol on Wednesday.

The committee's top Democrat, Representative Eliot Engel, attended the meeting at the Capitol but declined comment on the classified nature of the talks. A spokesman said he supports efforts to engage with Iran but believes Tehran agreed to negotiate because of the sanctions passed by Congress.

"Tehran must know that Congress will not acquiesce to lifting sanctions until they completely and verifiably dismantle their nuclear program," said Daniel Harsha, a spokesman for the House committee's Democrats.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Vicki Allen and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (7)
Life1 wrote:
“Tehran must know that Congress will not acquiesce to lifting sanctions until they completely and verifiably dismantle their nuclear program”.

Completely dismantle their nuclear program? They need to get their message straight, since apparently all this was to ‘verify’ the peaceful nature of the program. Now it’s about ‘completely’ dismantling it?

Oct 24, 2013 7:23pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
JohnnM96 wrote:
Iran is only a threat to Israel. The same country that made a huge number of Arabs homeless and then sectioned them off and build a huge wall keeping them in and then put them into certain districts(sort of like the film District 13 or what the Nazi’s did). There is still a huge number of Palestine refuges that have been living in refuge camps in places like Jordan. They have needed to bring their children up in these prison type camps, and for what? so Israel can build solar panel upper-class houses in the West bank and trap GAZA in with no way to get out.

The Israeli’s have showed NO mercy for the Palestinians and their children. They continue to knock down “illegal building’s” in the west bank when its THERE LAND!!!!! Do they offer any support to the people they have just made homeless? NO!!!!

Iran is only a threat to America and the West if we continue to support Israel. I’m glad we are all waking up and realizing how unfair Israel is treating others, especially since you would expect them to know what it feels like to be a second class citizen and be targeted because of your race/religion.

Oct 24, 2013 7:28pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Logical123 wrote:
Congressmen are a bunch of lunatic sycophants of Israel/AIPAC. The Council on Foreign Relations is a right-wing propaganda machine and no one should listen to it. The idea that Iran is negotiating because of sanction is utterly stupid and false. New sanctions will show that the U.S. is a toothless mouse that cannot stand up to Israel. The U.S. has no independent foreign policy. All its orders come from Netanyahu.

If Obama cannot make a deal with Rouhani, there will NEVER be peace between the U.S. and Iran. This farce will continue for another 60 years at least just like in the case of Cuba. In the meantime, other countries are going ignore the U.S. and will ramp up trade with Iran. Iran already trades with over 160 countries. The U.S. will soon become irrelevant in the international scene.

JohnnM96: Iran is a threat to nobody. Iran has not attacked another country in 300 years. Do you want me to count the number of countries that the U.S. and Israel have attacked just in the last 50 years

Oct 24, 2013 7:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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