* U.S. negotiator holds out possibility of short-term
* Obama administration wants to provide time for talks
* Democratic senator voices concern about early sanctions
By Arshad Mohammed and Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, Oct 3 WASHINGTON, Oct 3
The United States held out the possibility on
Thursday of giving Iran some short-term sanctions relief in
return for concrete steps to slow uranium enrichment and shed
light on its nuclear program.
Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S.
negotiator with Iran, also urged lawmakers to hold off imposing
additional sanctions against Iran before Oct. 15-16 when six
major powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the
United States - will meet Iranian officials to negotiate over
Tehran's nuclear program.
The scheduled talks follow this year's election of Iranian
President Hassan Rouhani, a centrist who has made overtures to
the West and spoke last week by telephone with U.S. President
Barack Obama in the highest-level contact between the two
countries since 1979.
In testimony to Congress, Sherman held out the possibility
of sanctions relief for Iran but made clear that the United
States expects concrete actions from Tehran before this could
happen. She said all U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program
must be addressed before the core sanctions could be removed.
"We will be looking for specific steps by Iran that address
core issues, including but not limited to, the pace and scope of
its enrichment program, the transparency of its overall nuclear
program and stockpiles of enriched uranium," Sherman told the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"The Iranians in return will doubtless be seeking some
relief from comprehensive international sanctions that are now
in place," she added. "Only concrete ... and verifiable steps
can offer a path to sanctions relief."
DEMOCRATIC SENATOR CONCERNED
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez,
a Democrat, voiced concern about early sanctions relief, saying
this could undermine international support for the economic
penalties that would then be very hard to restore.
Sherman said the fundamental, major sanctions - which she
did not name - should remain in place until all U.S. concerns
about Iran's nuclear program are addressed, but suggested some
openness to partial sanctions relief as negotiations proceed.
Because of the technical complexity of securing agreement on
Iran's nuclear program, it would be useful to find a way to halt
its progress to provide time for the negotiations, she said.
"What we are thinking through is, what is it that would give
us some confidence today, would put some time on the clock, stop
their nuclear program from moving forward, while we get to that
comprehensive agreement that would allow the full sanctions
relief they are looking for," Sherman said.
"There may be some elements that we can do initially if
they take verifiable, concrete actions that will put time on the
clock that are reversible, or in fact don't go to any of the key
sanctions that have brought them to the table."
Together with its allies, the United States, which broke
diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980 after the Islamic revolution,
suspects that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a
cover to develop atomic weapons.
Iran denies this, saying its program is for solely civilian
and peaceful purposes.
The United States and its allies have imposed extensive
sanctions against Iran, including a U.S. law that forced buyers
of Iranian crude oil to slash their purchases.
U.S. and European sanctions have more than halved Iran's oil
exports from about 2.2 million barrels per day before the
measures took effect in 2011, costing the country billions of
dollars a month in lost revenues.
Howard Berman, a Democrat and former chairman of the House
of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee, suggested that
sanctions should not be eased without Iranian action to rein in
its nuclear program.
"Sanctions brought us to where we are and I think it would
be a big mistake, and I think the administration knows it would
be a big mistake, to get rid of or weaken those sanctions absent
meaningful agreement with Iran," he said.
"If Iran were to make a decision to unilaterally suspend
their enrichment program as a show of good faith I think it
would allow things to move quickly from there," he added. "We
should be trying to strive for a big deal, not nibbling around
Uranium enrichment can produce fuel for power plants or, if
extended, fissile material for atomic bombs.
Republican Senator Mark Kirk criticized Sherman for
suggesting that the Senate should hold off on additional
sanctions against Iran before the talks.
"The State Department should not aid and abet a European
appeasement policy by pressuring the Senate to delay sanctions
while the world's leading sponsor of terrorism races toward a
nuclear weapons capability," he said, urging "maximum economic
pressure on Iran to give diplomacy a chance to succeed."