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Any US-Iran nuclear deal faces hard sell in Congress

Last Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 08:37

Washington: With nuclear talks between Iran and western powers gathering steam, the Obama administration will likely face an uphill battle to convince Congress to back any deal rolling back its tough sanctions regime.

For years, US lawmakers have carefully crafted legislation aimed at reining in Iran`s suspect nuclear program and moves to provide even some sanctions relief are likely to be met with suspicion on Capitol Hill.

Even as the nations leading the talks with Tehran -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany -- met for the first time with the new Iranian leadership in Geneva last week, US lawmakers issued warnings to the negotiators to be on their guard.

Details of what Iranian officials proposed during an hour-long power point presentation in English behind closed doors remain confidential, but the talks were hailed as "serious and substantive" and the broad contours are not hard to discern.

The six powers want the Islamic republic to halt enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, which brings it to weapons grade, and dismantle its weapons-related infrastructure, in return for relief from crippling economic sanctions imposed by the US, UN and European powers.

But enmity and suspicion between Iran and the US stretch back decades to the Islamic revolution and the 444-day siege of the US embassy in Tehran in 1980. And any deal could be a hard sell to hardliners in both nations.

US chief negotiator, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, has already been debriefing lawmakers by phone and is set to testify at a series of classified briefings before she returns to Geneva for the next talks on November 7 and 8.

"I don`t think the issue`s convincing the American people, I think it`s convincing the people in Congress who want to pass sanctions no matter what," said Alireza Nader, senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation think tank.

Indeed, draft legislation for new US sanctions targeting the automobile sector and Iran`s foreign reserves is awaiting a vote in the Senate, after being adopted in July by the House of Representatives.

President Barack Obama has some authority to ease some US sanctions hitting the petroleum and banking sectors, mostly those slapped on third countries doing business with Iran.

And the New York Times reported last week the White House may be considering unblocking some USD 10 million in frozen Iranian assets in the United States to give the Rowhani leadership some access to badly needed foreign exchange reserves.

First Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 08:37

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