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Congress upset by Obama's push back against new Iran sanctions

February 3, 2014 at 10:42 am

A number of senior members of the US Congress have expressed their anger at the Obama Administration’s strong pleas to postpone imposing new sanctions on Iran, highlighting how tough the president’s task of pursuing any rapprochement with Tehran will be.

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, both former senators, visited the Congress on Capitol Hill accompanied by other top officials to warn senators that implementing new measures now could ruin the delicate talks between Iran and world powers regarding Tehran’s nuclear programme.

“The risk is that if Congress were to make a unilateral move to increase sanctions, it could break the trust in those negotiations and actually stop or dismantle them,” Kerry told reporters on Wednesday before the closed-door briefing.

After the briefing, some legislators said they were not convinced.

“It was a very unsatisfying briefing,” remarked Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

However, Corker said that he had not yet made up his mind about whether they should go forward with imposing new sanctions on Iran. Corker is also a member of the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the sanctions measures.

Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, the chairman of the Banking Committee, said that he is also still undecided regarding the issue.

However, a spokesperson for Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Banking Committee, conveyed after the meeting that he still wanted to impose the new sanctions.

President Barack Obama requested a “temporary pause” on any new sanctions to give diplomats from the US and the five other world powers a chance to negotiate with Tehran and see whether it may be possible to resolve a decade-long dispute over its nuclear programme.

The US, EU and Iran have been working on a proposal to end the dispute regarding the Iranian nuclear programme for months.

Kerry said that, “We have the P5+1; Germany, Great Britain, France, Russia, China and the US have all agreed on the proposal that’s on the table.”

“If we impose more sanctions suddenly,” added Kerry, “then some members of this alliance will think we are dealing in bad faith and will run off,” thus potentially sabotaging the negotiations.

The negotiators failed to reach an agreement during the latest talks that ended on Saturday in Geneva. A new round of talks is scheduled to begin on 20 November.

Iran argues that its nuclear programme is peaceful and is aimed at generating electricity, but its refusal to stop sensitive activities has led the West to impose strict sanctions on its vital oil exports as well as its banking sector.

The new set of intensified sanctions is currently being discussed in Congress, where lawmakers, including many of Obama’s fellow Democrats, generally take a more hardline approach towards Iran than the administration.