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Kerry to Congress: We Promised No New Sanctions

United States Secretary of State appeals to lawmakers to "hold off" on new sanctions against Iran.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 12/11/2013, 12:12 AM

John Kerry
John Kerry
Israel news photo: Flash 90

United States Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday appealed to Congress to "hold off" on new sanctions against Iran, Fox News reports.

Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that such legislation would be "gratuitous" and could give Tehran an excuse to "flout" the recently struck nuclear deal.

"We're asking you to give our negotiators and our experts the time and the space to do their jobs," Kerry said. "I'm not saying never [pass additional sanctions]. ... I'm just saying not right now."

The secretary described the current talks as a "hinge" point, and suggested that failure here could lead to "continued hostility" and potentially "conflict."

"Believe me, we are all skeptical," he said. "But we now have the best chance we've ever had" to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Iran, Kerry claimed.

The comments came as a bipartisan group of senators is preparing to propose new sanctions against Iran. The concern is that the current deal gives the country too much leeway, and additional pressure may be needed.

On Monday it was reported that the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, and Republican Senator Mark Kirk are close to agreeing on legislation that would target Iran's remaining oil exports, foreign exchange reserves and strategic industries.

Citing the agreement by the U.S. and other world powers, during talks in Geneva, not to impose new sanctions for six months, Kerry said Congress could threaten that unity if it goes on a "tangent" with new legislation.

He added that the U.S. would "test but verify" and disputed claims that the deal provides significant sanctions relief. Kerry said the relief could be quickly reversed if needed.

Stressing that the ultimate goal is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, he said, according to Fox News, "We now have the best chance we ever had to rigorously test this proposition, without losing anything."

He was challenged by committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and other members, who complained that the current deal does not require Iran to stop enriching uranium entirely.

"We are facing an immoral and very dangerous regime in Iran," Royce said. "I am hard-pressed to understand why we would be letting up sanctions pressure" at this point.

Kerry’s appearance before the committee is the latest part in a very aggressive campaign by the administration to convince lawmakers to postpone passing new sanctions on Iran.

President Barack Obama recently told lawmakers that Iran would make progress in its ability to build a nuclear weapon if there is no diplomatic deal to halt or roll back its nuclear program.

Iran's foreign minister has warned that new sanctions would kill the nuclear deal negotiated last month aimed at curbing Tehran's uranium enrichment program.

"The entire deal is dead," Mohammad Javad Zarif told TIME Magazine in an interview conducted Saturday and published Monday.

"We do not like to negotiate under duress. And if Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States,” he threatened.

The Senate group drafting a new bill has agreed that the new sanctions would take effect in six months, when the current interim deal brokered between the U.S., Iran, and five other world powers expires, if a satisfactory long-term deal is not struck.

The sanctions would permit Iran to develop nuclear power for commercial purposes, so long as the development is monitored by the international community.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that imposing new sanctions on Iran, even those that are delayed, would be counterproductive and could "unravel the unity" of the six world powers working to implement the deal.

"It could certainly put the negotiations that we have all worked so hard on that we believe is the best chance we've had in a decade to achieve a peaceful outcome at risk,"  Psaki told reporters.