December 8, 2013
Biden urges US lawmakers to hold off on any new Iran sanctions
Vice President Joe Biden led a high-powered delegation to Capitol Hill to try to persuade US lawmakers to hold off on any more sanctions against Iran and let delicate diplomatic talks over Tehran's nuclear program unfold.
President Barack Obama is convinced that there is the potential for an international deal to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon but worries that congressional pressure for additional sanctions could complicate negotiations.
Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew held a closed-door session with Senate Democratic leaders and Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Banking Committee to update them on major power talks with Iran. A new round of negotiations is set for next week in Geneva.
An official in Biden's office said the administration's message was that there may come a point when more sanctions are needed, but now may not be the best time for Congress to act.
But the appeal to wait is a tough sell in Congress, which tends to take a harder line on Iran than the administration. Several lawmakers said after the meeting they had not been convinced, and that fresh sanctions are needed to discourage Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
"I'm not ready to commit" to further delay, Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Banking Committee, told reporters.
Republican Senator Mark Kirk, who strongly opposes any move to hold off on sanctions, said that if the banking committee delays its vote, he would seek to add more Iran sanctions to a defense authorization bill that could come to the Senate floor in November.
Others said they were more open to the appeal for a delay.
"I am mindful of the fact that maybe these discussions will bear fruit, and so we'll see," Republican Senator Mike Johanns said, although he added that any delay would not be long.
Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, chairman of the Banking Committee, said he had not yet decided whether to put off the committee's vote on new sanctions again. The banking panel, which has jurisdiction over sanctions bills, has delayed the measure from September at the administration's request.