WASHINGTON • US senators and Trump administration officials have met at the White House, hoping to hammer out compromise legislation to tighten restrictions on Iran while keeping Washington in a global nuclear deal with Teheran.
Senators Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mr Ben Cardin, the panel's top Democrat, had a Thursday evening meeting with President Donald Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster to discuss possible legislation, Senate and White House aides said.
The stakes have risen in the past week with anti-government protests in several Iranian cities over economic hardships and corruption, the boldest challenge to Teheran's leadership in a decade.
Worrying European allies who co-signed the 2015 accord, Mr Trump has railed against the deal to limit Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for loosening sanctions reached under his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama. In October, the Republican President said he would not certify that staying in the pact was in the national security interest of the United States, and threatened to pull out if lawmakers did not act to toughen it.
Members of Congress have been working since then to come up with a bipartisan compromise that would give Mr Trump enough political cover not to reimpose sanctions on Iranian oil before a deadline next week, an action that would kill the pact.
Aides said they were looking at measures including ending the requirement that Mr Trump re-certify the deal every 90 days and changing some of the sunset provisions to allow the reimposition of US sanctions, with no timetable, if Iran's nuclear programme reaches certain thresholds.
The last thing we need to do from my perspective would be to turn that attention to us.
SENATOR BOB CORKER, saying the protests in Iran made it more important that Washington not do anything to shift the focus from Iran's government.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Corker said he hoped enough progress had been made that Mr Trump might not restore the sanctions. "My sense is there's a little momentum right now, and it doesn't feel to me like we're in a place where the President might do that, but who knows," he told reporters at the Capitol.
Mr Corker said the protests in Iran made it more important that Washington not do anything to shift the focus from Iran's government. "The last thing we need to do from my perspective would be to turn that attention to us," he said.
The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to meet late yesterday to discuss Iran, days after US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called for an emergency session to discuss the protests.
The US proposal was dismissed by Russia, another participant in the nuclear deal, as "harmful and destructive", with "no role for the UN Security Council in this issue". A procedural vote which no council member can veto, however, could be used to stop the meeting.
Separately, the US Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned five Iranian-based entities it said were owned or controlled by an industrial firm responsible for developing and producing Iran's solid-propellant ballistic missiles.