Kerry Urges Lawmakers To Hold Off On Iran Sanctions

Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on lawmakers not to impose further sanctions in Iran as negotiations on reining in Tehran's nuclear program continue. Iranian officials have said new sanctions would kill off any hope of a final deal between Iran and world powers.

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Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States is in a delicate diplomatic moment, and he's urging Congress not to mess it up.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The U.S. and other nations have made a temporary deal over Iran's nuclear program. It includes some restraints on that program, as well as some restraints on global sanctions.

INSKEEP: As he meets privately today with senators, Kerry is urging them to hold off on imposing more sanctions. He made that case in public yesterday, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The hearing was contentious at times, as Kerry tried to fend off criticism from both Republicans and Democrats about the deal the U.S. and other world powers struck recently with Iran. Kerry says that interim deal freezes and rolls back parts of Iran's nuclear program, and in return, Iran will get - at most, he says - $7 billion in sanctions relief. It doesn't make sense, he argues, to increase sanctions now.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: They know that if this fails, sanctions will be increased. We've said it a hundred times. And you all have said it a hundred times, and they know you're yearning to go do it. But you don't need to do it. It is actually gratuitous in the context of this situation.

KELEMEN: Kerry says negotiators need time and space to do their jobs, and need to maintain a united front with their partners in Russia, China, the U.K., France and Germany. Imposing new sanctions could threaten that, Kerry argued. Iran's foreign minister is also warning that new sanctions would kill any deal.

But the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, wasn't buying it, saying it's possible to draw up sanctions that would go into effect six months from now, and only if talks fail.

REPRESENTATIVE ELIOT ENGEL: Well, I think it could potentially strengthen your hand with a good cop-bad cop scenario. But anyway...

KERRY: Well, I appreciate your thinking that. I'm respectfully suggesting to you that we think our hand is very, very strong, and nothing is undone in the sanctions regime.

KELEMEN: Kerry says because the oil and banking sanctions remain in place, Iran will lose $30 billion over the course of the next six months, and that gives Tehran incentive to negotiate. During that time, the secretary says inspectors will have more access to formerly secret nuclear sites. But there's another concern many lawmakers raise, that the U.S. seems ready to accept a uranium enrichment program in Iran.

Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a Republican from California, pressed Kerry on that.

REPRESENTATIVE ED ROYCE, REPUBLICAN, CALIFORNIA: We've heard the administration say that Iran has no right to enrich, but the Iranians, this week, say they do. And the joint action plan indicates that the U.S. would accept an Iranian enrichment program.

KELEMEN: Secretary Kerry says that's all to be negotiated. Congressman Royce says Iran can't be trusted with the nuclear fuel cycle, even with more rigorous inspections.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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