WASHINGTON President Barack Obama will meet with Senate leaders from both parties on Tuesday to try to convince them not to adopt further sanctions on Iran as the United States and other world powers head for new nuclear negotiations with Tehran, the White House said.
Obama urged Congress last week to hold off on new sanctions and sought to reassure lawmakers that any easing would be modest and could be quickly reversed if Iran shows it is not serious about curbing its nuclear program.
The president plans to make that case again to lawmakers when he meets them at the White House, presidential spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.
"When it comes to our position on additional sanctions, I'm sure that this will be a topic because it's the president's view that it's the right thing for Congress to do to pause so that we can test whether or not the Iranians are serious about resolving this issue diplomatically," Carney told reporters.
Emphasizing that any easing of sanctions in return for Iran agreeing to scale back its nuclear program would be slight, Carney said that reports stating that the reduction would be worth upwards of $40 billion are "significantly" exaggerated.
"The relief that would accompany an agreement for this first phase would be a modest and it would be eminently reversible," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's point man on Iran policy said last week the package offered to Iran in the talks could lower the annual cost of sanctions by up to $40 billion, out of a total annual cost of $100 billion.
The meeting at the White House will include Senate leaders from both parties as well as the chairmen and ranking Republicans from the Senate banking, foreign relations, armed services and intelligence committees.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday pressed Iran to finalize an agreement that can prove to the world its nuclear program is peaceful, but said he has "no specific expectations" for this week's talks in Geneva between Iran and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France - plus Germany.
Iran has denied that it wants to develop atomic weapons capability and insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and other civilian uses.
The six world powers are negotiating a proposal that would ease economic sanctions imposed on Iran in response to its nuclear ambitions if it suspends some parts of a program that many countries, particularly in the West, fear is aimed at developing nuclear weapons capability.
Kerry said he hoped "Iran will understand the importance of coming there prepared to create a document that can prove to the world this is a peaceful program."
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Will Dunham)