White House looks for time to pass multilateral sanctions on Iran

White House aides are quietly asking members of Congress to give them time to win multilateral sanctions on Iran through the United Nations.

The White House is under pressure from members of both parties on Capitol Hill to move forward with unilateral sanctions.

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The House and Senate have both passed bills imposing tougher sanctions on Iran, but their rival measures need to be reconciled by lawmakers in conference.

President Barack Obama said last week he wants to see UN sanctions in place this spring, but he continues to face opposition from UN Security Council members China and Russia.

The administration is trying to buy Obama some time with House and Senate conferees who will consider the legislation after the Easter recess, sources following the issue closely said.

The administration’s effort may have been boosted Thursday by the Chinese government’s announcement that President Hu Jintao will attend April’s nuclear summit in Washington to be hosted by Obama.

Obama also discussed sanctions on Iran with Hu in a telephone call on Thursday.

Still, analysts are skeptical about whether China and Russia will agree to the tougher sanctions the U.S., Germany, England and France are pushing in the United Nations. Without China’s support, the U.S. also faces difficulty in winning support from temporary members of the UN’s Security Council.

The White House intensified its outreach to Capitol Hill after it was taken by surprise late last year when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brought Iran sanctions legislation to the floor for a vote.

As a result, administration officials held an internal meeting in mid-February, at which point they began seriously considering the negative consequences of the legislation.

Administration officials then engaged in “a more vigorous effort on the Hill to try to slow down the train,” said one source.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that Obama “understands the urgency” of taking action on Iran, but is focused on Obama's continued outreach to China and Russia.

Gibbs declined to characterize administration interaction with Congress on the matter as requests to slow down.

“We are certainly active in listening to what's happening on the Hill,” Gibbs said.


Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, said the sense emerging from Capitol Hill is that “the larger number of members of Congress are willing to give the president time to let this play out a little longer.”

However, Reinsch noted that members are not willing to give Obama “an infinite amount of time.”

Reinsch said that many observers expected the situation to come to a head during last week's AIPAC meeting in Washington, and they were surprised when it didn't.

There was, however, a significant amount of fiery rhetoric aimed at Iran, and the message to Obama was clear that his time is running out.

“Diplomatic efforts have failed. We are too close (to a nuclear Iran) to simply continue those efforts,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at AIPAC.

“The U.S. must hit Iran first, on our own, with unilateral sanctions, no matter what the other nations of the world do. And we cannot wait, we must push those sanctions now ... we cannot afford to wait for Russia or China.”

Obama ratcheted up his rhetoric on Iran last week, in an appearance with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, when he promised to increase pressure on China and Russia to approve tougher sanctions.

“My hope is that we are going to get this done this spring,” Obama said. “So I'm not interested in waiting months for a sanctions regime to be in place. I'm interested in seeing that regime in place in weeks.”