Obama warns against further Iran sanctions

President Obama on Thursday warned against “ratcheting up” conflict with Iran, a swipe at lawmakers clamoring for more sanctions.

In an interview with NBC, Obama said he's ready to offer Iran “very modest relief” from current sanctions as part of a preliminary deal. In exchange, Iran will have to freeze progress on its program and open it up to international inspection.

“We don't have to trust them,” Obama said. “What we have to do is to make sure that there is a good deal in place from the perspective of us verifying what they're doing.”

Such a deal, he said, would be “greatly preferable to us ratcheting up that conflict higher and higher, which ultimately might lead to some sort of confrontation.”

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Negotiators from the United States and five other countries are offering the confidence-building proposal to the Iranians as part of the latest round of talks in Geneva. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to travel to Geneva on Friday in the latest sign that the negotiations have been successful.

Obama described the talks as the “first phase” of a “phased agreement.”

“We don't have to trust them,” he said. “What we have to do is to make sure that there is a good deal in place from the perspective of us verifying what they're doing. And that they're actually moving in the right direction. We can test it.”

He said he would keep “the sanctions architecture in place” so that “if it turned out during the course of the six months ... that they're backing out of the deal,” then “we can crank that dial back up.”

The White House has been pressuring Senate leaders to hold off on new sanctions as it tests the overtures from President Hassan Rouhani. Many lawmakers — particularly Republicans — are skeptical.

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said this week he was considering legislation that would make it more difficult for the administration to loosen sanctions. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vowed to bring up new sanctions as an amendment to a defense bill if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) won't bring a bill to the floor. The House voted 400-20 in July to tighten sanctions on Iran's energy sector.

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