Kerry to Congress: ‘calm down’ over Iran

Published: Updated:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday sought to “calm down” Congress from imposing new sanctions on Iran amid ongoing diplomatic talks to reign in Tehran’s nuclear drive.

“We put these sanctions in place in order to be able to put us in the strongest position possible to be able to negotiate. We now are negotiating,” Kerry told reporters ahead of testifying before the Senate Banking Committee.

“And the risk is that if Congress were to unilaterally move to raise sanctions, it could break faith in those negotiations, and actually stop them and break them apart.”

Washington’s top diplomat was speaking before beginning a closed-door meeting with senators, many of whom are skeptical of the White House’s request for a freeze on new sanctions.

The House of Representatives has already passed legislation that toughens already-strict sanctions on Iran, whose economy by all accounts is reeling from the punitive action, AFP reported.

The Senate Banking Committee is mulling new sanctions too, and some key members of President Barack Obama’s own Democratic Party back a tougher stance despite the diplomatic opening.

“What we’re asking everybody to do is calm down, look hard at what can be achieved and what the realities are,” Kerry told reporters.

“Let’s give them a few weeks, see if it works,” he said, adding that there was “unity” among the six powers – U.N. Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany -- negotiating with the Islamic republic.

“If this doesn’t work, we reserve the right to dial back up the sanctions.”

In that event Kerry said he would return to Capitol Hill “asking for increased sanctions. And we always reserve the military option.”

Washington and Western allies allege Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran denies.
President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday by telephone with French President Francois Hollande. The two countries “are in full agreement” on Iran, the White House said in a statement.

Obama is under pressure at home and abroad to resolve the Iran nuclear standoff, having said the U.S. has until sometime next year before the Islamic republic could reach nuclear weapons capacity.

Obama has reached out in an unprecedented manner to Iran’s new President Hassan Rowhani, with the two men holding the first direct conversation between U.S. and Iranian leaders in more than three decades.

At the same time, Obama has angered U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, which see an Iranian nuclear arsenal as existential threats.

(With AFP and AP)