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Kerry tells Congress to stand down

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 7:39 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry warned Congress on Wednesday against scuttling a historic opportunity for a nuclear pact with Iran by pressing ahead with new sanctions while international negotiators seek to prevent Tehran from being able to assemble an atomic weapons arsenal.

Kerry, who as a senator joined the effort to impose crippling oil, trade and investment restrictions on Iran, said the United States and other world powers are united behind an offer they presented to Iranian negotiators last week. But he said new action from lawmakers could shatter a coalition made up of countries with interests as divergent as France, Russia and China, endangering hopes for an end to the decade-long nuclear standoff with the Islamic republic.

“We put these sanctions in place in order to be able to put us in the strongest position possible to be able to negotiate. We now are negotiating,” Kerry told reporters ahead of testifying before the Senate Banking Committee. “And the risk is that if Congress were to unilaterally move to raise sanctions, it could break faith in those negotiations, and actually stop them and break them apart.”

With nuclear negotiations set to resume in Switzerland next week, the Obama administration dispatched Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to seek more time for diplomacy.

They were met with skepticism from members of Congress wary of yielding any ground to Iran in the talks.

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday, Democratic and Republican lawmakers sharply criticized Kerry and other senior U.S. officials for their offer during last week's inconclusive negotiations.

“The Iranian regime hasn't paused its nuclear program,” lamented Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman. “Why should we pause our sanctions efforts as the administration is pressuring Congress to do?”

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