(Adds analyst, Johnson spokesman confirming meeting, details on
EU sanctions, background)
By Timothy Gardner and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON Oct 24 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
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 Nov. 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
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
"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)