US President Barack Obama has asked senators to hold back on imposing fresh sanctions against Iran in order to give diplomacy a chance. His appeal came ahead of key nuclear talks with Tehran later on Wednesday.
The US president called on lawmakers to delay imposing new sanctions on Iran to allow Wednesday's latest round of nuclear talks in Geneva to progress.
Obama told the top Democrats and Republicans gathered for a two-hour closed door meeting at the White House that "new sanctions should not be enacted during the current negotiations," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Carney said Obama warned lawmakers from the Senate Armed Services, Intelligence, Foreign Relations and Banking committees that without a diplomatic deal, which sees Iran halt or roll back its nuclear program, Tehran could progress in building a nuclear weapon.
"The president made clear that achieving a peaceful resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is profoundly in America's national security interest," Carney said.
The meeting was the latest in a series of attempts by the Obama administration to convince US lawmakers of the merits of a nuclear deal with Iran. It comes as some senators consider a tightening of already crippling economic sanctions, which the administration has warned could derail the chances of ending the decades-long nuclear standoff.
The US alongside the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as the p5+1, are seeking an interim agreement in the third round of talks with Tehran on Wednesday which could see some of the existing sanctions eased. In return Iran would halt progress on its nuclear program while a final agreement was negotiated.
Opposition to nuclear deal
While expressing support for the negotiations many senators remained uncertain over the details of the proposed interim deal, laid out in the Tuesday meeting.
"We had some folks in the room that were satisfied, I think we had some folks in the room that were very unsatisfied," Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, told reporters.
He noted, however, that the Senate will recess next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, making it unlikely that any votes on fresh sanctions will be held imminently.
Separately a bipartisan group of senators released a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry shortly after the meeting warning that Iran was not being asked to do enough to justify easing economic pressure.
"We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned," wrote Democratic Senators Robert Menendez, Chuck Schumer and Bob Casey and Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins.
"We are concerned that the interim agreement would require us to make significant concessions before we see Iran demonstrably commit to moving away from developing a nuclear weapons capability," the six senators said.
The senators warned that Iran could temporarily slow its nuclear program, but still pursue nuclear weapons.
Their fear is shared by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been waging a very public campaign against what he describes as a "bad deal" between Iran and the P5+1.
Fresh sanctions would 'split' nuclear talks
Obama did receive support from some quarters however. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein reiterated the administration's assertion that fresh sanctions could break up the p5+1's pursuit of a peaceful solution.
"I think it would not only split it apart, but do it in a way that would make it very difficult to come back together. Now, if you want a war, that's the thing to do," Feinstein told reporters.
The West fears Iran could be using its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons. Iran has long maintained, however, that its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and other civilian uses.
ccp/av (AFP, Reuters, dpa)