White House bid to hold off Iran sanctions gains backing

WASHINGTON Thu Dec 12, 2013 4:25pm EST

Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) chairs the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on the collapse of MF Global in Washington April 24, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) chairs the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on the collapse of MF Global in Washington April 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's campaign for Congress to hold off on new sanctions over Iran's nuclear program won a key endorsement on Thursday when the chairman of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee rejected tightening measures against Iran now.

Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat, said he agrees with the Obama administration that such legislation could disrupt delicate negotiations seeking to curb Iran's nuclear program. The Banking Committee oversees sanctions legislation in the Senate.

"We should not do anything counterproductive that might shatter Western unity on this issue," Johnson said at a hearing.

"We should make sure that if the talks fail, it was Iran that caused their failure. We should not give Iran, the P5+1 countries or other nations a pretext to lay responsibility for their collapse on us," he said.

Iran's foreign minister also has said a new sanctions law would kill the interim agreement reached in Geneva on November 24. In that agreement, Tehran agreed to limit uranium enrichment in return for an easing of international sanctions.

The administration's push to hold off on sanctions gained further momentum when other senators - including senior Republicans - said they did not expect action now.

"I realized we're sort of going through a rope-a-dope here in the Senate and that we're not actually going to do anything," said Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Banking panel.

Underscoring the administration's insistence that it is not backing down on Iran, the U.S. Treasury Department announced shortly before the Banking Committee hearing that it had blacklisted several companies and individuals for supporting Iran's nuclear program.

TALKS CONTINUE

The P5+1 powers who negotiated the interim deal on Iran's nuclear program - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - are continuing negotiations with a goal of reaching a comprehensive final deal in six months.

Johnson also said he and Senator Mike Crapo, the top Republican on the Banking panel, had crafted a new sanctions bill, not to pass now, but to be put into effect if Iran does not comply with the Geneva agreement or negotiations collapse.

"I am holding back ... simply because of the administration's request," Crapo told reporters after the hearing.

Crapo said he believed in strong sanctions but had not decided how he would vote if a group of more hawkish senators led by Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk pursued a plan to introduce sanctions legislation without going through the Banking Committee.

Menendez said at the banking hearing that he remained deeply skeptical about Iran and said the Senate might need to pass a resolution spelling out what it sees as terms of an acceptable final agreement with Iran.

The Obama administration is eager to remind companies hoping for an opening to do business with Iran that sanctions that have crippled the country's economy remain in place.

"We are very actively dissuading international oil companies and others who think that now may be a time to test the waters in Iran," David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence for the Treasury Department, said at the hearing.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew met recently with more than 100 bank chief executives and other business leaders to give that message, he said.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner, Bill Trott and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Beech)

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Comments (11)
Maxwells wrote:
Why hasn’t this Iran ‘agreement’ been published yet? Seems there were a difference of opinion between President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani as to whether or not Iran could continue their enrichment program and continue to build their heavy water facility at Arak. Rouhani says they are permitted to continue these programs, and Obama claims they are not, so is that their agreement?

Iranian President Rouhani went as far as saying President Obama was lying to the American people about the terms of the agreement, and now nothing is being said by either President Obama or the Media, as if both intentionally avoiding the issue. The so-called ‘agreement’ captured headlines claiming a historic agreement, yet no one has been able to see what that agreement really contains, are we suppose to trust that the Press Release from the White House that grabbed headlines resolved the issues …so now everything is just great?

Dec 12, 2013 10:51am EST  --  Report as abuse
AlkalineState wrote:
Freeze their assets.

Dec 12, 2013 11:47am EST  --  Report as abuse
izrahim wrote:
As I said so many times before, the Iranian Nuclear Issue was NEVER the issue, it was a smokescreen to get Iran back into the Western Banking Cartel which is the issue.I hope that this deal is in fact blocked by congress as I am betting on that the members don’t Evan know the full aspects of the deal as they a rubber stamp set up in the first place.

Dec 12, 2013 5:47pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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