U.S. Vice President Joe Biden joined other top officials from the Obama administration on Thursday as the administration tries to persuade the Senate not to impose new sanctions on Iran, reports Politico.
Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other senior Senate Democrat as the White House lobbies against additional punitive measures against Iran at this time.
The fear is that Congress could upset a rare opportunity to pursue a diplomatic resolution to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Asked if he were concerned Congress would move forward with additional sanctions, Biden told Politico, “No I’m not concerned about it, the sanctions are tough.”
Neither Reid nor Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would comment on the issue following their meeting with Biden, Kerry and Lew.
Kerry and Lew also held a top-secret briefing for the Senate Banking Committee on the impact of U.S.-led sanctions on Iran, according to Politico.
The Senate Banking panel is considering whether to act on legislation hitting Iran’s oil industry. The House overwhelmingly passed such legislation in July, but the White House is urging Reid and Senate Democrats to hold off while multilateral talks on Iran’s nuclear program continue.
Democratic senators are split on whether to heed the administration’s calls, with some urging their party’s leadership to move forward with legislation imposing new sanctions now, reported Politico.
“I think we got to be real careful about letting our pressure decline,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). “But I certainly think we should seriously consider additional sanctions.”
Two senior Democratic senators — Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) — appeared to be amenable to holding off on further legislation to let diplomatic efforts take effect.
“I think after 10 years of bitter confrontation, sanctions and all of the inflamed rhetoric, that it makes sense for us to be thoughtful on how and when we respond to the Iranians,” Durbin was quoted as having said on Thursday.
Asked then if he agreed it made sense to delay the sanctions as the administration has asked, Durbin said, “I think members of Congress will need some assurance as to what that means. And what the impact will be on current sanctions and the ways we will measure good faith on the part of the Iranians.”
U.S. officials are scheduled to meet with Iranian representatives early next month in Geneva as part of the “P5+1” discussions which include officials from the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.
Obama administration officials argued Thursday that pressure from the existing sanctions regime applied over the past four years are having the intended effect.
Members of both the Republican and Democratic parties have overwhelmingly backed tougher economic pressure on Iran in recent years amid concern it is closing in on nuclear weapons capability.
Two weeks ago, six Democratic and four Republican senators called on Iran to end all its uranium enrichment activity and pushed for a speedy escalation of sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
At the last meeting a few weeks ago between Iran and the P5+1, Iran presented what it described as a breakthrough proposal that would include snap inspections of its atomic sites.
While Senators have called to toughen sanctions, President Barack Obama has welcomed the moderate statements made by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and has said he wants to test their sincerity.