Middle East/North Africa

State Dept. seeks delay in Iran sanctions

A top State Department official on Thursday asked Congress to delay new sanctions on Iran until nuclear negotiators meet in mid-October.

The House passed new sanctions legislation in July, and the Senate Banking Committee is working on similar legislation.

But the Obama administration wants lawmakers to hold off on those bills until it can see if any progress is made in talks between Iran and six major nations, including the United States, Oct. 15 and 16 in Geneva.

Wendy Sherman, State’s undersecretary for political affairs, said the legislation could be used as leverage in the talks.

“I would hope that you will allow us the time to begin these negotiations and see if, in fact, there is anything real here,” Sherman said. “With my telling the Iranians quite directly that if there isn’t, that everyone is ready to act.”

{mosads}The round of negotiations was announced last week after Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

President Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani the following day and said he had tasked Kerry with relaunching talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

The administration says Congress needs to give those talks time to proceed.

“In terms of legislation that is currently being discussed here on the Hill, we do believe it would be helpful for you all to please allow this meeting to happen … before moving forward to consider those new sanctions,” Sherman told a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations panel.

“And the reason I say that is because I want to be able to say to Iran: This is your opportunity, come on the 15th October, with concrete, substantive actions that you will take; commitments you will make in a verifiable way; monitoring and verification that you will live up to create some faith that there is reality to this, and our Congress will listen.”

House Foreign Affairs panel chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who authored the House bill, called Sherman’s comments “troubling.”

“Rather, I strongly encourage the Senate to pass sanctions legislation now,” Royce said in a statement. “It is critical that we increase the pressure on Iran to increase our negotiating leverage and deny Tehran the resources to continue its nuclear program.  Before we slow down on sanctions, we must see actions – not simply talk – from Iran.  Iran is only at the table because of our economic pressure.  Why fool with success?” 

Updated at 12:40 p.m. 

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com

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