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Senators to wait before considering Iran sanctions

Nov. 12, 2013 at 1:30 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- U.S. senators will wait until hearing from Secretary of State John Kerry before deciding whether to move ahead with new sanctions against Iran, an aide said.

The agreement to wait, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, accommodates an Obama administration request.

It also comes ahead of a closed-door meeting Kerry is to have with the Senate Banking Committee Wednesday in which he is to discuss international talks with Iran that failed early Sunday to produce an interim agreement on limiting Tehran's nuclear program.

The proposed deal, which did not come to pass despite earlier diplomatic statements suggesting an accord was likely, would temporarily freeze some of Iran's nuclear programs in exchange for a partial easing of Western sanctions.

In the private session, Kerry is widely expected to urge lawmakers to hold off a bit longer and not to push through additional economic sanctions against Tehran. Adding new layers of punitive sanctions on the Persian Gulf country would likely complicate the talks when they resume, diplomats say.

The Obama administration is under fire from congressional and Israeli leaders who fear it may be too ready to accept a concessionary deal with Tehran.

"Israel is united in opposition to the deal being offered to Iran," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the Knesset Monday.

"We are speaking in a clear and unequivocal voice," he said. "The time that was achieved over the weekend must be utilized to achieve a much better deal. The target date for this deal is -- the date on which a good deal will be achieved that will deny Iran a military nuclear capability."

The United States and the four other permanent U.N. Security Council members -- Britain, France, Russia and China -- plus Germany, plan to meet again with Iran Nov. 20 to pick up where the Geneva, Switzerland, talks left off.

The U.S. House has already approved a bill increasing U.S. sanctions against Iran's energy and financial sectors.

A similar bill is pending before the Senate Banking Committee, which would be the first Senate panel to vote on imposing new layers of punitive sanctions.

The tougher sanctions have Senate support from Democrats and Republicans.

Banking Committee member Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who also is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told ABC's "This Week" Sunday the additional sanctions -- which he said would be reversed if an acceptable deal were reached -- would be "insurance for the United States to make sure that Iran actually complies with an agreement that we would want to see."

"At the same time, it's also an incentive to the Iranians to know what's coming if you don't strike a deal," he said, calling on the measure to be passed.

Washington and many allies, including Israel, maintain Iran is covertly trying to develop a capacity to build nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

"Hard work was done, progress was made, the P5-plus-1 was united," Kerry told reporters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Monday before flying to Washington.

"The French signed off on it, we signed off on it," Kerry said. "There was unity, but Iran couldn't take it."

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif quickly disputed Kerry's characterization.

"No amount of spinning can change what happened within the 5+1 in Geneva from 6 p.m. Thursday to 5:45 Saturday. But it can further erode confidence," Zarif said in a Twitter message.

Zarif told Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Channel 2 the holdup during the three-day Geneva talks stemmed largely from disagreements among the six world powers.

"Most of the talks were focused on alleviating the dispute among the powers," he told the state-run channel. "Perhaps one country tried to express its opinion over the negotiations."

The allusion was apparently to France, whose public dissent is reported to have contributed to the talks' failure.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius went public Saturday with misgivings about parts of the proposed agreement, just as negotiations reached a critical point.

"There is an initial text that we do not accept," he told France Inter public radio, warning the six powers should avoid playing a "fool's game."

Fabius Monday denied France was the main reason for the lack of a deal, telling France's Europe 1 radio Iran objected to proposed language about Tehran's asserted "right" to enrich uranium.

"We have already advanced a lot," he told the network. "We are not far from an accord."

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