WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers will wait until after a briefing by Secretary of State John Kerry this week before deciding whether to impose tough new sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program, Senate aides said on Monday.
Kerry will brief the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday on the status of negotiations for a deal on the nuclear program, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters as Kerry returned from a trip that included a stop at the Iran negotiations in Geneva.
The White House offered no immediate comment on the administration’s plans to brief lawmakers. The Obama administration has urged the Senate to hold off on further sanctions against Iran to let diplomacy run its course.
Senator Tim Johnson, the Senate Banking Committee’s chairman, will not make a decision on how to proceed until after that meeting.
“Members of the Banking Committee are going to be briefed on the Geneva negotiations by Secretary of State Kerry later this week, and Chairman Johnson will not make a decision on additional sanctions until he has had a chance to consult with his colleagues following the briefing,” a banking committee aide said.
Iran says its nuclear program is a peaceful bid to generate electricity. But its refusal to halt sensitive work has drawn tough sanctions targeting its lifeblood oil exports.
Negotiators from world powers will resume talks with Iran in nine days after failing to reach agreement on an initial proposal to ease international sanctions against Tehran in return for some restraints on its nuclear program.
A package of tighter sanctions has been making its way through Congress.
The Republican-led House of Representatives passed its version of a stiffer sanctions bill in July but was held up in the Democratic-controlled Senate after President Barack Obama’s administration asked the banking committee for a delay to let the delicate diplomatic talks unfold.
Members of Congress generally take a harder line on Iran than the administration. They have expressed deep skepticism about a rapprochement between Iran and world powers.
After the weekend talks in Geneva failed to yield an agreement on a proposal to ease international sanctions against Tehran in return for some restraints on its nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he felt the Obama administration was pursuing “a very bad deal.”
Some lawmakers said they aimed to tighten sanctions to ensure the Obama administration does not give away too much in the talks with Iran.
“The attitude is let’s hear him (Kerry) out. After that, unless there is high confidence that we’re going to get the Iranians to agree to something stronger, there’s a good chance we’re going to move forward (on the sanctions bill),” another Senate aide said.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Shannon, Ireland; Editing by Alistair Bell and Bill Trott)