State: Non-nuclear sanctions could be OK

The Obama administration told lawmakers on Thursday that its deal with Iran only covers nuclear-related sanctions and that it plans to continue slamming Tehran on terrorism, human rights and other issues.

The top Republican on the Senate Banking panel, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), pressed Obama officials on the issue after the Senate acceded to the administration's request that it hold off on new nuclear sanctions during nuclear negotiations. Crapo suggested lawmakers could instead craft sanctions legislation targeting Iran for non-nuclear violations.

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“Given that there are different kinds of sanctions and the agreement focuses on nuclear-related sanctions,” Crapo asked the State Department's lead negotiator, “assuming we can specify exactly what that is and distinguish between the different sanctions, does that mean that Congress would be free to pass other sanctions measures while we are considering” a final deal with Iran?

“We have said to Iran that we will continue to enforce all of our existing sanctions, and we have said that this agreement pertains only to new nuclear-related sanctions in terms of what we, the European Union and the U.N. Security Council will forego,” Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman answered at a committee hearing. “And indeed, right now, there are considerations by the Human Rights Council about a resolution on human rights abuses in Iran. We fully support that. So, on an ongoing basis, in all of the international fora where we have ongoing concerns about counter-terrorism, human rights, censorship, we will be active as we always have been.”

Sherman and other administration officials have been ramping up the pressure on the Senate to back off new nuclear sanctions, arguing that they could derail talks and unravel the international sanctions architecture. The chairman of the Banking Committee, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), said Thursday he was postponing action through his committee indefinitely.

Asked if the administration could support new non-nuclear sanctions, Sherman was noncommittal.

“I think, senator, we'd have to look at what the specific language was, attacking what specific problem,” she told Crapo. “So, I think the best I can do today without specific language sitting in front of me and in front of our lawyers is to say to you that the only commitment we have made in this agreement is no new nuclear-related sanctions.”

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