Obama appeals to senators to hold off on more Iran sanctions

US Iran generic flags CBS/AP

One day before the United States and the other world leaders are set to resume negotiations with Iran, President Obama on Tuesday met with several Senate leaders and appealed to them to hold off on any further sanctions against Iran.

However, after the meeting, a number of the senators, as well as some House leaders, expressed concern with the potential deal that the P5+1 may negotiate with Iran during the talks in Geneva.

"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," a group of senators wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, which was publicly released after the White House meeting.

The letter was signed by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; and Susan Collins, R-Maine. At least three of those senators -- Schumer, Menendez and McCain -- attended the two-hour long White House meeting, along with Kerry and Mr. Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters after the meeting that Mr. Obama is "determined" to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and firmly believes he should do so through peaceful means if possible.

"Therefore, he has a responsibility to pursue the ongoing diplomatic negotiations before pursuing other alternatives," Carney said. "With this current P5+1 proposal, we have the opportunity to halt the progress of the Iranian program and roll it back in key respects, while testing whether a comprehensive resolution can be achieved."

Mr. Obama stressed to the senators, Carney said, that in the absence of a first step, Iran will continue stockpiling enriched uranium, installing advanced centrifuges, and making progress on the plutonium track at the Arak reactor.

"We believe strongly that reaching an agreement, if it can be reached with Iran, that commits Iran in a first phase to halting progress on its... nuclear program for the first time in nearly a decade and rolling back key aspects of it, is the right way to go," Carney said. "As we seek to find out whether a comprehensive agreement is reachable, it is preferable to halt that progress and roll back aspects of it, to the alternative, which is to potentially pursue a comprehensive agreement without any restrictions on Iranian behavior."

Mr. Obama also stressed that the relief offered to Iran in the P5+1 proposal would be would be "limited, temporary, and reversible," Carney said. The president also shot down rumors that Iran would receive $40 or $50 billion in relief.

Mr. Obama also told the senators that additional sanctions would be more effective against Iran if the current negotiations fail -- not before then. Carney told reporters, "It is important when it comes to congressional action for Congress to hold in abeyance its potential for passing new sanctions for a time when it might be most effective."

After the meeting, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said some lawmakers wanted to announce new sanctions proposals soon, though none would be added to the defense budget bill before Thanksgiving.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, could not attend the White House meeting because he was managing the Defense budget bill on the Senate floor on Tuesday. Yet in a written statement, he said there was no reason to trust Iran now.

"Until Iran takes clear and demonstrable steps to fulfill its obligations and shut down its illicit nuclear program, I cannot seriously consider easing sanctions on Iran and thereby putting our national security a risk," he said.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the committee's top Democrat, also wrote a letter to Mr. Obama Tuesday expressing concern over the potential agreement under negotiations.

"We must sustain economic pressure and consequent political pressure on the Iranian regime if we hope to reach a final agreement in which Iran has verifiably dismantled its nuclear program," they wrote, calling the reported deal insufficient for an interim agreement.

Comments