White House defends Iran sanctions relief

The White House on Thursday defended its offer to loosen sanctions on Iran as skeptical lawmakers threatened to torpedo negotiations.

Spokesman Jay Carney made the remarks after the administration offered to loosen U.S. sanctions if Iran temporarily freezes its uranium enrichment. Iranian negotiators engaged in the latest round of talks in Geneva appeared to approve the proposal, but a key U.S. senator is demanding tougher conditions.

“There's no question that over the course of the last weeks and days, there has been progress,” Carney said. “This would stop Iran's nuclear program from advancing for the first time in a decade.”

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Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, told Iranian state TV that the United States and the five other countries engaged in talks with Iran “clearly said that they accept the proposed framework by Iran.”

However, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday that he is considering legislation that would prevent the administration from lifting sanctions unless Iran stops all enrichment and reprocessing activities.

“We’ve crafted an amendment to freeze the administration in and make it so they are unable to reduce the sanctions unless certain things occur,” Corker told The Daily Beast. “They have the ability now to waive sanctions. But we’re very concerned that in their desire to make any deal that they may in fact do something that is very bad for our country.”

Other Republicans — notably Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) — are pushing legislation to add new sanctions rather than loosen current ones. The House voted 400-20 to tighten sanctions on Iran's energy sector in July and the Obama administration has been lobbying the Senate Banking Committee to hold off on companion legislation at least until the end of the year.

“If the Banking Committee doesn't move you can bet your life there will be an effort to impose new sanctions,” Graham told reporters on Tuesday.

Carney declined to comment on Corker's effort. He sought to alleviate lawmakers' concerns by describing the proposal as “limited, targeted and reversible relief that does not affect our core sanctions architecture.”

"That core sanctions architecture would be maintained until there is a final comprehensive, verifiable agreement that resolves the international community's concerns," he said. "If Iran does not live up to its commitments, the temporary modest relief would be terminated, and we would be in a position to ratchet up the pressure even further by adding new sanctions."

—Justin Sink contributed.

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