U.S. Congress calls for hard line on Iran sanctions

Reuters

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON, Oct 14 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers urgedPresident Barack Obama to keep to a hard line on sanctionsimposed on Iran on Monday, a day before the resumption of talkson its nuclear program between world powers and Tehran.

Congress has generally been tougher on Iran than the Obamaadministration, pushing for ever-stricter economic measures overTehran's nuclear program. On Monday, both Democrats andRepublicans called for Obama to stand firm, even as anadministration official held out the possibility of quicksanctions relief if Tehran moves quickly.

The talks starting in Geneva on Tuesday are the first sincethe June election of President Hassan Rouhani, a relativemoderate who wants to thaw Iran's icy relations with the West tosecure the removal of the punitive sanctions, which have hobbledits oil-based economy.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved evenstricter new sanctions in July. The Senate Banking Committeeagreed to delay the package until after the Geneva negotiationsonly after appeals from the Obama administration.

In a letter to Obama, a group of six Democratic and fourRepublican U.S. senators said they were open to suspending theimplementation of new sanctions on Iran but only if Tehran takessignificant steps to slow its nuclear program.

The 10 senators said they wanted Tehran's full cooperationwith the International Atomic Energy Agency, fulfillment ofpromises under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty andimplementation of all U.N. Security Council resolutions on itsnuclear weapons program, including immediate suspension of allenrichment.

"If the Iranian government takes these steps in a verifiableand transparent manner, we are willing to match Iran'sgood-faith actions by suspending the implementation of the nextround of sanctions currently under consideration by theCongress," they said.

'CREDIBLE MILITARY THREAT'

They also reaffirmed that "a credible military threat"remains on the table and said current sanctions must bemaintained aggressively.

The 10 senators signing the letter included Democrats RobertMenendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,and Charles Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, as wellas Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of theirparty's most influential foreign policy voices.

Other senior lawmakers took an even harder line.

The Republican chairman of the House Foreign AffairsCommittee sent a separate letter urging Obama to negotiate "withthe highest degree of caution." Washington should adopt newsanctions to gain additional leverage against Iran,Representative Ed Royce wrote.

Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate ForeignRelations Committee, also urged Obama to stand firm. "Congresscan play a constructive role by putting in place toughconditions on Iran before any easing of sanctions can occur," hesaid in a statement released ahead of the talks.

Western nations believe Iran's uranium enrichment program ismeant to achieve a nuclear arms capability. Tehran denies this,saying it wants only to generate electricity and carry outmedical research.

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