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Obama Urges Senators to Delay New Iran Sanctions


President Barack Obama, Nov. 19, 2013.

President Barack Obama, Nov. 19, 2013.

U.S. President Barack Obama has asked lawmakers to delay any new sanctions against Iran while international negotiations aimed at curbing the country's nuclear program continue.

President Obama hosted top senators at the White House Tuesday for talks that officials say were "solely focused on Iran." The president, along with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, urged lawmakers not to upset progress as Western diplomats in Geneva, Switzerland, try to get Iran to agree to a deal that would stop advancements of its nuclear program for the first time in nearly a decade.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says that with a new round of negotiations beginning in Geneva, "it would be appropriate for the Senate to pause before continuing new sanctions to see if these negotiations can move forward and make progress."

The White House says the Geneva deal would modestly ease sanctions. In exchange, Iran's leaders would make efforts to show they are not pursuing nuclear weapons.

"The president noted that the relief we are considering as part of a first step would be limited, temporary and reversible, and emphasized we will continue to enforce sanctions during the six-month period," said Carney.

International sanctions have crippled Iran's economy.

Senator Bob Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House, Nov. 19, 2013, following a meeting with President Barack Obama.

Senator Bob Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House, Nov. 19, 2013, following a meeting with President Barack Obama.

Republican Senator Bob Corker says he and some others at the meeting are concerned the move could forfeit some of Washington's influence over Tehran.

"We know who we're dealing with, and you know, we've watched this same type of activity occur in North Korea where you begin to alleviate sanctions. And I think what the concern is that whatever you do on the interim basis becomes the new norm," said Corker.

Shortly after the meeting, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to the president, urging the administration to reject the proposed deal. Arizona Republican John McCain and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer were among the six signers.

The United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany - more commonly known as the P5+1 - want Iran to curb its enrichment activity to prevent the nation from developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Senator Corker says the Senate will not vote on any amendments concerning Iran sanctions until after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday next Thursday.

Nuclear talks start Wednesday in Geneva.
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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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