(Adds comment on Johnson, paragraph 8)
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON Oct 30 Top Obama administration
officials have been pushing U.S. lawmakers hard to hold off on
new sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, but some key
lawmakers said on Wednesday they had not yet been convinced to
support a delay.
Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee and a member of the Senate Banking
Committee, which is considering the sanctions package, said
lawmakers were skeptical because they felt they had to push the
White House to back strict sanctions on Tehran.
"It's incumbent upon them over the next 24 to 48 hours to
persuade folks like me and others that the course of action they
want to follow is a sound one," Corker told Reuters.
"I think ... because Congress had to push the administration
into the sanctions regime in the first place, there is a degree
of skepticism. But from my standpoint I'm certainly open to
listening," he said.
Corker had a breakfast meeting on Wednesday with Secretary
of State John Kerry. On Thursday, Kerry and Treasury Secretary
Jack Lew were to hold a classified briefing on the status of
talks with Iran for the Senate banking panel.
"The point that they are making is that they are at a point
in these negotiations where they believe that additional
sanctions coming out of the committee are counterproductive to
the negotiations that are under way," Corker said.
The banking panel had been expected to vote on the sanctions
in September, but held off after the Obama administration asked
for a pause while negotiations with Tehran got under way.
Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, the banking committee's
chairman, is waiting to hear from Lew and Kerry and will finish
consulting with colleagues before making a decision on how to
proceed, an aide said.
Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican member of the banking panel
who is a strong backer of tougher sanctions, said he opposed any
"Every day the Senate delays consideration of new sanctions,
Iran installs more centrifuges, enriches more uranium and
improves its nuclear breakout capability," he said, referring to
the ability to enrich uranium for use in a bomb.
"If Iran is capable of negotiating while violating
international law, the United States should be equally capable
of negotiating while imposing new sanctions pressure," Kirk said
in a statement.
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.
International talks over Iran's nuclear program revived
after self-described moderate President Hassan Rouhani took
office in August. The talks got under way this month and Iran,
Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany
will meet Nov. 7-8 in Geneva for a second round.
Sanctions imposed in 2011 by Washington and the European
Union have combined to slash Iran's oil exports by more than 1
million barrels a day, depriving Tehran of billions of dollars
worth of sales and helping drive up inflation and unemployment.
The House of Representatives passed its version of a stiffer
sanctions package in July by a 400-20 vote, seeking to slash
Iran's oil exports by another 1 million barrels a day, to nearly
(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Jackie