White House on offensive to thwart Iran sanctions

US Secretary of State John Kerry turns and waves as he boards his aircraft at London's Stansted Airport, on Nov 25, 2013, en route to Washington. The US administration stepped up its battle on Tuesday to thwart moves by lawmakers tighten sanctio
US Secretary of State John Kerry turns and waves as he boards his aircraft at London's Stansted Airport, on Nov 25, 2013, en route to Washington. The US administration stepped up its battle on Tuesday to thwart moves by lawmakers tighten sanctions on Iran, warning this would jeopardize tough negotiations on Teheran's nuclear program. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US administration stepped up its battle on Tuesday to thwart moves by lawmakers tighten sanctions on Iran, warning this would jeopardize tough negotiations on Teheran's nuclear programme.

Secretary of State John Kerry videotaped a message to members of Congress warning against any new sanctions during the six-month period of talks foreseen by a deal struck last weekend in Geneva.

"He certainly understands that this will be a vigorous debate, though he believes that everything doesn't have to be a showdown," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

"The video is part of our effort to make sure that the debate is based on facts and not rumor or otherwise." Mr Kerry would urge that "passing any new sanctions legislation during the course of the negotiations, in our view, would be unhelpful and could put the success of the outcome at risk."

The White House echoed the message, warning that any "additional sanctions before this diplomatic window could be pursued would undermine our credibility about the goal of these sanctions."

Deputy White House spokesman Josh Earnest added: "We're not sanctioning just for the sake of sanctions and we're not sanctioning the Iranians specifically to punish them.

"We have these sanctions in place to pressure Iran to consider and pursue a diplomatic option." The moves came after Iran and major powers reached an accord in Geneva on Sunday on the Islamic state's nuclear ambitions.

Under the deal, Iran has agreed to freeze certain aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for an estimated US$7 billion (S$8.8 billion) of relief from crippling sanctions.

Mr Kerry has already led a blitz on Congress, where lawmakers have threatened to take up new legislation against Iran when they return in early December from their recess for the Thanksgiving holidays.

On Tuesday, he spoke with Senator Bob Menendez, who took over from Mr Kerry earlier this year as chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations committee.

Both Republican and Democrat lawmakers have said Congress should press for tougher sanctions against Iran if Teheran does not respect the nuclear deal.

But, under the deal, Washington committed to "refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions" for the six months during which world powers will seek to hammer out a comprehensive settlement.

New sanctions would "violate the spirit" of the interim agreement and, Mr Psaki warned, could divide the parties to the deal "because other countries would think that the United States is not living up to our end of the bargain in terms of giving the negotiations a chance." The next step is that technical teams from both Iran and the P5+1 - Britain, France, China, Germany, Russia and the United States - would meet to "tee up the implementation" of the deal, she added.

The promised sanctions relief would be metered out in installments.

It's not "an all-at-one-time or .. a spigot that's turned all the way on.

It would be a slow process that obviously we control, and some of those details are still being worked out," she said.

Under the deal, Iran will allow daily inspections of its nuclear facilities; halt any uranium enrichment above 5 per cent purity as well as neutralize its stocks of 20 per cent enriched weapons-grade enriched uranium; halt construction on its heavy water reactor at Arak and not install new centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment plant.

In return, the European Union and United States will suspend sanctions on Iran's petrochemical exports, as well as its gold and precious metals, and ease US sanctions on its auto industry.