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White House to push Senate to delay new Iran sanctions

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani participates in an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society in New York, Septem
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani participates in an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society in New York, Septem

By Patricia Zengerle and Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House will host a meeting of aides to Senate committee leaders on Thursday seeking to persuade lawmakers to hold off on a package of tough new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, a senior Senate aide said.

The White House will press for another delay on a sanctions bill that had been expected to come to a vote in the Senate Banking Committee last month, but was held back after appeals from President Barack Obama's administration to let negotiations on Iran's nuclear program get under way.

The aide said Republicans would resist further delay, but that the decision was in the hands of Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, the committee's chairman, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also a Democrat.

Aides to Johnson and Reid were not immediately available to comment.

While Congress has sought harsher sanctions on Iran, the administration wants more time to give negotiations over Iran's nuclear program a chance. The negotiations that include six world powers are due to resume early next month in Geneva.

The White House confirmed that there would be a meeting on Thursday, but a spokeswoman would not comment on whether the administration would push for further delay in the sanctions.

"Congress has been an important partner in our efforts thus far. We will continue our close consultation, as we have in the past, so that any congressional action is aligned with our negotiating strategy as we move forward," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.

"Today's meeting is part of these ongoing consultations, following on the recent P5+1 talks with Iran," she said, referring to the six powers - the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia.

Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of State for political affairs, who participated in this month's talks in Geneva, discussed the Iran situation with members of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in a classified briefing at the Capitol on Wednesday.

The committee's top Democrat, Representative Eliot Engel, attended the meeting at the Capitol but declined comment on the classified nature of the talks. A spokesman said he supports efforts to engage with Iran, but believes Tehran agreed to negotiate because of the sanctions passed by Congress.

"Tehran must know that Congress will not acquiesce to lifting sanctions until they completely and verifiably dismantle their nuclear program," Daniel Harsha, a spokesman for the House committee's Democrats, said.

The House overwhelmingly approved the new sanctions in July.

Washington and its allies believe Tehran is developing the ability to make a nuclear weapon, but Tehran says the program is for generating power and medical devices.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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