* Talks between Iran and six major nations scheduled on Oct.
* Delaying new sanctions may improve atmosphere at talks
By Patricia Zengerle and Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, Oct 1 Under pressure not to squeeze
Iran too hard, the U.S. Senate is unlikely to impose a fresh
round of sanctions on the Islamic Republic until after Tehran
holds nuclear talks with world powers later this month,
lawmakers and congressional aides said.
The Senate Banking Committee had been due in September to
look at a new package of sanctions passed in July by the House
of Representatives, but now it will not do so for at least a few
more weeks, an aide said.
That could create a better atmosphere at talks between Iran
and six major nations in Geneva on Oct. 15-16, the first such
encounter since President Barack Obama and new Iranian President
Hassan Rouhani held a historic phone call last week.
While the sanctions issue has been slowed by congressional
wrangling over the U.S. government shutdown, lawmakers
acknowledged that the idea had come up of deliberately delaying
new sanctions to improve the mood at the Geneva talks.
"There's been some discussion about whether it's best right
now, while the negotiations are occurring, just to keep the
existing ones in place," Senator Bob Corker, the senior
Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a
member of the Banking Committee, told Reuters.
He stressed that Congress generally remains deeply
suspicious of Iran and supportive of tougher sanctions.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief,
made clear on Monday she would prefer U.S. lawmakers and others
not to impose additional sanctions before the nuclear talks.
"I would like to get to Geneva with the best possible
atmosphere to really have these negotiations," she said.
Congressional aides familiar with the issue said some Obama
administration officials have been quietly pressing for Congress
to hold off.
"We will continue to consult with Congress on all
Iran-related legislation as we have long before last week. Iran
has an imperative to improve its economy, because every single
economic indicator is negative for them," said State Department
spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The House passed a new package of sanctions by a vote of 400
to 20 at the end of July. That bill seeks to cut Iran's oil
exports by another 1 million barrels per day over a year to near
zero, to try to reduce the flow of funds to the nuclear program.
Sanctions on Iran's oil sales, shipping and insurance
businesses have led to losses of billions of dollars in revenue
each month as well as crippling inflation and high unemployment.
The Senate bill will likely be less tough than the House's
measure in targeting Iran's oil exports, which already have been
halved by existing European and U.S. sanctions. The Obama
administration has noted that it has concerns about the House
Administration officials declined to elaborate, but analysts
and congressional aides said the White House fears that if
sanctions are too hard on Iran's customers they may stop
cooperating with the United States.
Existing sanctions - which push countries including China,
India and Japan to reduce their imports of Iranian oil by
threatening to cut off their banks from the U.S. financial
system - may have already gone as far as they can without
antagonizing these countries.
"It's hard to get Iran's main customers in Asia to cut their
(oil) purchases too much more, so seeking to cut oil exports
even further could be counterproductive and the sanctions
coalition could unravel," said Jeffrey Schott, an expert in
sanctions at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
An eventual sanctions package from the Senate could include
new measures to pressure Iran's natural gas exports and other
Corker said there is strong support among lawmakers for
adding more sanctions on Iran and making them even stricter
although lawmakers were still undecided.
"I don't think that that's a resolved issue at this time,"
Aides said last month that senators from both parties had
considered closing loopholes in existing sanctions and forcing
reductions in Iran's oil sales at a faster pace than that set
out in the House bill.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United
Nations on Tuesday that a charm offensive by Iran's new
president is a ruse concocted by a "wolf in sheep's clothing,"
and declared that Israel was ready to stand alone to deny Tehran
an atomic weapon. Iran says its nuclear research is only for
Obama has the right under existing sanctions legislation to
temporarily waive the Iran sanctions packages already passed by
However, he is unlikely to do so until Tehran demonstrates
what Washington would see as tangible progress on the nuclear
program, such as mothballing centrifuges or sending enriched
uranium out of the country.