Obama to push senators to hold off on sanctions

White House spokesman says Israeli claims regarding scope of potential Iran sanctions relief are ‘significantly exaggerated’

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

US President Barack Obama (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)
US President Barack Obama (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will meet with a number of key legislators representing four of the most powerful committees in the US Senate Tuesday to make his case for a delay of additional sanctions against Iran.

The Democrat-controlled Senate has thus far acceded to the president’s requests to hold off on additional economic pressure and let negotiations with the Islamic Republic run their course.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney downplayed the significance of the scheduled meeting, describing it as “very much in keeping with the method the president has employed thus far in this matter, that he consulted closely and regularly with members of the Senate on this issue.”

Carney described the meeting as a routine briefing on the P5+1 talks, a new round of which will begin in Geneva this week. He acknowledged, however, that Obama will discuss the issue of additional sanctions with the bipartisan group.

“It is the president’s view that it is the right thing for the Congress to do, to pause in order to test whether we can do this thing diplomatically,” Carney told reporters Monday afternoon.

The spokesman said that Washington’s goal in the talks is “to halt or slow down significant aspects of [Iran’s] nuclear program while we are checking to see if a comprehensive agreement is possible.”

He reiterated the administration’s insistence that any relief given to Iran as a result of an interim agreement “would be modest and eminently reversible” and that it would “leave in place the entire structure of the sanctions regime that has been in place and brought Iran to the table.”

Carney delivered a retort to Israeli claims that the sanctions relief could reach upwards of $40 billion, describing the claims as “significantly exaggerated.”

Among those invited to the meeting Tuesday is Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD), who has indicated support for sanctions at times, but has so far taken a wait-and-see approach prior to bringing any bill before his committee. Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a leading Democratic supporter of sanctions, is also slated to attend.

Republicans have been more strident in their opposition to the administration’s pleas for time. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) have both raised the possibility that Iran sanctions could be added to the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, which is considered must-pass legislation for the administration.

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