Kerry urges Congress not to pass fresh sanctions against Iran
US secretary of state says it would be ‘gratuitous’ and would damage ‘delicate diplomatic moment’
US secretary of state John Kerry at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington yesterday. “We’re asking you to give our negotiators and the experts the time and space to do their jobs,” he said. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA
US secretary of state John Kerry has urged Congress not to proceed with imposing new sanctions on Iran to allow negotiators to conclude a historic agreement to end Tehran’s capacity to build a nuclear bomb.
Mr Kerry told an influential House of Representatives committee that Iran knew of the “yearning” in Congress to introduce sanctions but cautioned against such action, saying it would undermine a “very delicate diplomatic moment” following last month’s “first-step” agreement.
“You don’t need to do it. It is actually gratuitous in the context of this situation,” he told the House foreign affairs committee.
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif warned that last month’s deal, opening a six-month window of negotiations, would be “dead” if the US Congress passed new sanctions. He said fresh restrictions would show a “lack of seriousness” by the US, breach last month’s “first-step” deal and ruin ambitions for a long-term agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear programme.
“The entire deal is dead. We do not like to negotiate under duress,” Mr Zarif told Time magazine when asked how Tehran would react to any restrictions imposed by US lawmakers.
The White House is pushing Congress not to pass fresh sanctions that would come into effect if no final deal with Iran is concluded on the nuclear programme or if Tehran breaches the terms of the agreement reached with the US and five other world powers in Geneva late last month.
“We’re asking you to give our negotiators and the experts the time and space to do their jobs – that includes asking you while we negotiate to hold off new sanctions,” Mr Kerry told Congress.
In the Senate, Republicans and some Democrats are pushing for a Bill that would create a six-month window for Iran to agree a final deal on its nuclear programme or else face new sanctions.
Mr Kerry acknowledged that sanctions had brought Iran to the negotiating table but warned that new reprimands would damage talks and relations between the US and the other powers who reached the initial agreement that will limit Tehran’s nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.
“I don’t want to give the Iranians a public excuse to flout the agreement and it will lead our international partners to think that we are not an honest broker,” he said.
Members of Congress from both parties expressed concern that the US would ease the pressure on Iran by not introducing new sanctions.
Eliot Engel, the senior Democratic member on the committee, said new sanctions could strengthen the hand of US negotiators “with a good-cop, bad-cop scenario”.
Republican Ileana Ros- Lehtinen said the deal could be the “death knell” for the sanctions programme and threatened the US’s “closest ally”, Israel.