Obama likely to lobby senators against additional Iran sanctions

McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 15, 2014 

President Barack Obama will meet with Senate Democrats Wednesday about their shared legislative priorities for the new year, but he's also likely to aggressively lobby them to not implement additional sanctions against Iran that could sabotage his diplomatic efforts.

Obama has threatened to veto a Senate bill calling for additional sanctions against Iran that he insists could threaten his administration's efforts to curb portions of Tehran’s nuclear program. The bill may already have enough support to override a veto.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated Tuesday that h's in no hurry to bring an Iran sanctions bill up for a vote.

"The one message that the Iranians should have, they don’t have it by now is that we are not going to allow them to have nuclear weapons," Reid told reporters. "While this process is playing out, that is the negotiations going on...While they're going on and while they're in the legislative process, it is working forward here. I'm going to sit and be as fair an umpire as I can be."

The United States and other world powers struck a temporary agreement with Iran last weekend that would freeze parts of Iran’s nuclear activities for six months in return for a partial easing of economic sanctions that have been imposed by the United States and the European Union.

The agreement, which takes effect Monday, allows longer-term negotiations to continue. The sanctions in the Senate bill would not take effect unless those negotiations fail.

"The interim agreement with Iran is strong, it is tough, and it is realistic," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "It represents the first significant opportunity to change a three-decade course in Iran and an opening to improve one of our most poisonous bilateral relationships."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., hailed the Iran agreement as a positive step; he warned that the U.S. and its allies to continue to closely monitor Iran's nuclear weapons program to ensure that Iran's leaders completely comply with international calls to end its pursuit of nuclear arms.

"If they fail to do so, they ought to be met with increased sanctions and they must know with certainty that all options remain on the table to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran," he said.

The House already voted for new sanctions against Tehran in July, a measure that has not been taken up in the Senate.

Supporters of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 argue that it will pressure the Iranians to negotiate in good faith or face economic distress. On Wednesday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee urged Congress to act this week to pass the bill.

"Our view is simply that Congress ought not pass new sanctions now because doing so could inadvertently, no doubt, actually compromise the potential to reach the shared goal that we have," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The agreement came after Obama and Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, began exchanging letters this summer, followed by a historic telephone call between the two leaders. At the same time, the U.S. and Iran had been engaging in secret talks since March.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the meeting with Senate, scheduled for 5 p.m. at the White House, is an opportunity for the leaders to discuss their priorities for 2014.

"It’s basically to sync our watches on the policy agenda that the president has been putting forward and will add to in his State of the Union address," Carney said. "So there will be a broad array of topics, including..efforts we’re undertaking to work with Congress legislatively to move the country forward and efforts that he can undertake using the unique authorities and powers that a president has to make advances on behalf of the middle class and the American economy."

Carney did not mention specific topics but it's senators who ask about National Security Agency's surveillance programs. Obama will announce changes to them Friday. He appears to be on verge of making several changes to the nation’s surveillance programs, including halting the government’s storage of mass telephone records of millions of Americans, appointing a public advocate to appear before the nation’s secret surveillance court and stopping spying on some foreign leaders, according to those familiar with the White House deliberations.

Carney declined to comment on a New York Times story that the NSA has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world.

"We are in the final stages of wrapping up the administration’s review," he said.

Since June, former contractor Edward Snowden has leaked documents showing the National Security Agency has been collecting telephone and email records of tens of millions of Americans and foreigners, eavesdropping on allies such as Germany and Brazil, and spying on a host of global institutions including the World Bank.

An advisory panel created by Obama recommended nearly 50 changes to the surveillance programs, which have guided intelligence gathering by the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Obama could make some changes through executive actions. Others would require approval from a divided Congress, where support for NSA changes does not fall strictly along party lines.

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