Biden urges U.S. lawmakers to hold off new Iran sanctions

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Vice President Joe Biden led a high-powered delegation to Capitol Hill on Thursday to urge U.S. lawmakers to hold off another round of Iran sanctions to allow diplomatic efforts yield some results.

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, Reuters reported.

A new round of negotiations between Iran and Western powers is set on Nov. 7 in Geneva to discuss Tehran’s nuclear drive.

While the White House insists that tough sanctions have forced Iran to negotiate, it wants Congress to pause in imposing new, punitive measures to give negotiators flexibility in talks with Iran. Lawmakers argue that this is no time to let up on Tehran.

“It’s working,” Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican and a member of the Banking Committee, told the Associated Press. “It’s pinching the economy of Iran and that’s what we ought to keep doing as much as we can and as fast as we can.”

An official from Biden’s office told Reuters that President Barack Obama 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.

However, the Congress 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, was reported by Reuters as saying.

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.

There is also a prospect that a Senate panel would be crafting new sanctions at the same time as Iran and six world powers meet in Geneva.

The chairman of the Banking committee, Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson told the Associated Press that he was undecided on whether the panel would craft the bill next week.

Republican and Democratic congressional aides indicated that it was unlikely on the same days as the international talks.

(With Reuters and Associated Press)