Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers Wednesday that slapping Iran with additional sanctions right now would not be helpful.
At the same time, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Iranian voters of a Western plot to influence the outcome of the upcoming parliamentary elections, urging them to support conservative candidates who oppose rapprochement with the West.
Iranians are voting Friday to elect 290 members of parliament and 88 members of the Assembly of Experts, a panel of clerics responsible for appointing and monitoring Iran’s supreme leader.
Khamenei said in a speech Wednesday that Iranian voters should elect candidates who are “resistant against the arrogant powers’ excessive demands and greed” and who are “not intimidated by the US.”
In testimony before a Senate panel, Kerry advised waiting to see how the landmark nuclear deal proceeds before making a decision on imposing additional measures to punish Tehran for belligerent behavior.
Lawmakers are considering legislation that would address Iran’s ballistic missile tests, human rights violations and a reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires at the end of the year. Republicans are especially incensed over Iran’s detention of U.S. sailors in January.
But Kerry counseled a go-slow approach.
“I don’t think there’s a need to rush here,” he told members of the Senate appropriations state and foreign operations subcommittee. “I’d like to see how the implementation goes so we can do whatever we’re doing advised by that process.”
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told lawmakers during testimony earlier this month that since 2010 Iran has fired about 140 missiles in violation of a U.N. resolution. About half of the launches occurred during negotiations over the nuclear deal. The two most recent firings took place last fall, according to Clapper, who said Iranian officials were sending a message “that they are still going to continue to develop what is already a very robust missile force.”
The Obama administration imposed new sanctions against 11 individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program a day after the nuclear deal went into effect. But Republicans derided the new sanctions as weak and have urged a more forceful response.
“I have a list a mile long,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the subcommittee’s chairman.
Kerry cited the nuclear deal with Iran as key to the speedy release of the 10 American sailors apprehended in Iranian waters.
“If we hadn’t done this agreement and I didn’t have a relationship with (Iran’s) foreign minister, then they probably would have been hostages and they might still be there,” Kerry said of the sailors.
Graham shot back that if Barack Obama were not president, the Iranians wouldn’t have dared detain the sailors. “I’m really tired of this, being walked all over,” he said.
AFP contributed to this report.