| WASHINGTON, July 11
WASHINGTON, July 11 The U.S. Congress will
ultimately support an extension of an interim agreement of talks
on Iran's nuclear program, lawmakers and congressional aides
said, despite calls by Republicans and some Democrats to abandon
negotiations and return to tough sanctions to deter Tehran from
building a nuclear bomb.
As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flies to Vienna for
talks this weekend by six world powers and Iran to complete a
deal aimed at stopping Tehran from producing weapons-grade
uranium, some U.S. lawmakers are losing patience with diplomacy.
They want a tougher approach, threatening to impose stiffer
sanctions without concessions, beyond what analysts expect Iran
would accept. Many Republicans say they fear the White House
will concede too much in order to claim a foreign-policy
But influential Senate Democrats support extending the talks
beyond a July 20 deadline. Since the party controls the Senate,
its leaders can block any legislation that might close them
"I'm really convinced this negotiation must continue to the
end," said California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, a four-term
senator who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. The
possibility of a six-month extension was part of the interim
Accepted in November and implemented in January, the
six-month deal included limited sanctions relief, such as
allowing Iran to recover $4.2 billion in oil revenues frozen in
foreign accounts. The intention was to buy time for talks on a
Early this year, Senate leaders blocked a bill from
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk that
would have cut Iran's oil exports to almost zero, penalized
other industries and reduced President Barack Obama's power to
waive sanctions if Tehran violated the interim deal.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did not allow a vote on
Menendez-Kirk even though it was co-sponsored by 60 senators,
after the administration insisted it would threaten cooperation
with other world powers in the talks if it did not cause Iran to
walk away altogether.
House and Senate aides said they expected Obama's strongest
Democratic allies would back an extension even if it contained
additional moderate sanctions relief as long as the
administration made clear the negotiations had made progress.
EYES ON HARRY REID
Senate aides said Reid would not allow a vote on any
legislation seen as detrimental to the talks. A spokesman for
Reid did not respond to a request for comment.
Ending the decade-long nuclear dispute with Iran is seen as
central to defusing tensions and averting a major Middle East
war. Polls show Americans support the negotiations.
If Tehran and the United States, Russia, France, Germany,
China and Britain agree to an extension, congressional
opposition would be vocal, especially if sanctions were eased
before Iran signed off on stiff reductions in its nuclear
Hawks in Congress have been worried the interim pact would
open the floodgates to trade, weakening the sanctions regime,
but the sanctions have remained intact. Trade delegations have
visited Tehran, but only to talk about possible future deals,
which analysts said disappointed Iran.
"The (U.S.) Treasury Department has done a very good job at
reinforcing fears around the world about sanctions violations
and sanctions evasion," said Robert Einhorn of the Brookings
Institution, a former U.S. negotiator. "And so companies have
erred on the side of caution and not concluded new deals."
Members of Congress from both parties said they would be
comfortable with just one extension of six months or less. U.S.
officials said one possibility was continuing until the U.N.
General Assembly in September, when ministers from the
negotiating countries will be in New York.
Some hawkish lawmakers are already writing legislation to
impose more sanctions on Tehran. Nearly 80 percent of the House
signed a letter to Obama this week demanding close consultations
with Congress on Iran.
"If (the deal) falls apart, there should be another round of
sanctions," Kirk, an Illinois senator, told Reuters. He
dismissed concerns that more sanctions would limit negotiators'
Menendez, who represents New Jersey, said he would wait
before deciding how to respond.
"If it was a deal that I actually thought I could support,
that was close to being achieved, then I would be for an
extension. If it's far from a deal that I thought I could
support, unlikely," he told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Lou
Charbonneau in Vienna; Editing by Prudence Crowther)