Kerry presses Iran to prove its nuclear program peaceful

Reuters

(Adds White House and congressional comments on possible newsanctions)

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State JohnKerry on Monday pressed Iran to finalize an agreement that canprove to the world its nuclear program is peaceful, but said hehas "no specific expectations" for talks in Geneva this weekbetween major powers and Iran.

The White House said President Barack Obama will meet withSenate leaders on Tuesday to press his case that lawmakersshould not adopt any further economic sanctions on Iran over itsnuclear program to allow the international talks a chance tosucceed.

Last week, a senior U.S. official said the six major powersand Iran were getting closer to an initial agreement, but Kerryappeared to tamp down expectations two days before talks resume.

"I have no specific expectations with respect to the negotiation in Geneva except that we will negotiate in goodfaith and we will try to get a first-step agreement," Kerry tolda news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Kerry said he hoped that "Iran will understand theimportance of coming there prepared to create a document thatcan prove to the world this is a peaceful program."

"I am not going to negotiate this in public. We all need tobe respectful of each others' processes here and positions - andso it's best to leave that negotiation to the negotiatingtable," he added, declining to discuss details of a proposalunder discussion.

The six world powers are negotiating a proposal that wouldease sanctions on Iran if it suspends some parts of a programthat many countries, particularly in the West, fear is aimed atdeveloping a nuclear weapons capability.

The talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 powers,comprising the United States, Britain, China, France, Germanyand Russia, resume in Geneva on Wednesday. They will try toreach a first-step agreement to end a 10-year deadlock overIran's nuclear program.

Iran has denied that it wants to develop an atomic weaponscapability and insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to thepeaceful generation of electricity and other civilian uses.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry is open toparticipating in the upcoming talks "only if it makes sense" butwill not decide until the talks get underway.

Talks between the P5+1 and Iran ended last week without anagreement, although the sides appeared to be close to a deal.

CONGRESSIONAL ACTION ON SANCTIONS

Obama urged Congress last week to hold off on new sanctionsand sought to reassure lawmakers that any easing under theproposed deal would be modest and could be quickly reversed ifIran shows it is not serious about curbing its nuclear program.

The president plans to make that case again to lawmakerswhen he meets them at the White House, presidential spokesmanJay Carney said on Monday.

"When it comes to our position on additional sanctions, I'msure that this will be a topic because it's the president's viewthat it's the right thing for Congress to do to pause so that wecan test whether or not the Iranians are serious about resolvingthis issue diplomatically," Carney told reporters.

Legislation to impose tough new sanctions on Iran is notexpected to come to a vote in the Senate before December, U.S.lawmakers and congressional aides said.

Some Republicans have said they were considering proposingnew sanctions on Iran as an amendment to a defense authorizationbill the Senate is debating this week.

But lawmakers and aides said no such action was expecteduntil after senators come back on Dec. 2 from next week'sThanksgiving recess.

"I don't see anything happening until we get back," SenatorBob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee, told reporters.

The U.S. push for an agreement has stoked tensions withAmerican ally Israel, which wants tougher U.S. sanctions againstTehran to force it to completely dismantle its nuclear program.

Kerry said he had "great respect" for concerns by IsraeliPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a deal with Iran but didnot believe the talks would put Israel's security at anyadditional risk.

"Nothing that we are doing here, in my judgment, will putIsrael at any additional risk - in fact, we believe it reducesrisk," Kerry said. "We believe it helps all of us move closer tothis goal of achieving a comprehensive agreement."

Kerry said he was committed to returning to Israel after theThanksgiving holiday to continue talks with Netanyahu over Iranand ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"That is a priority for me and it doesn't change," Kerrysaid. "We remain deeply committed to this ongoing dialogue, toour friendship, and we intend to consult frequently and deeplyabout everything we are engaged in." (Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Roberta Rampton andMark Felsenthal; Editing by Will Dunham)

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