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Congress a tough foe of Iran accord

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 7:18 p.m.

WASHINGTON — An agreement secured with its greatest global foe, the Obama administration pleaded on Tuesday with a more familiar if often difficult negotiating partner not to scuttle last weekend's Iran nuclear deal: Congress.

Just back from his diplomatic triumph in Europe, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a video message to legislators as he urged that they not introduce new economic measures against Iran at a time the United States and fellow world powers are withdrawing some sanctions in exchange for the Iranians curtailing their nuclear program.

Kerry asserted that now is the time to get to work on a final agreement that removes any suspicion that Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons. “We all know that if the agreement falls apart, Iran is going to quickly face even tougher sanctions,” he said in the message.

Although Kerry was reaching out personally to key senators, Democrats and Republicans appeared determined to increase the pressure on Tehran. Many in Congress are skeptical, if not outright hostile, regarding the deal reached in Geneva. Two key senators are at work on legislation to reinstate the full force of sanctions and impose new ones if Iran doesn't make good on its pledge to roll back its nuclear program.

“The American people need an insurance policy to prevent a rerun of North Korea,” said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who is crafting a bill alongside Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. Critics of the accord reached in Geneva believe it could allow Iran to trick international monitors while it assembles an atomic weapons arsenal, similarly to what North Korea did last decade.

Iran sanctions evoke great passion in Washington. Although Obama views the economic pressure as the key motivation for bringing Iran's new moderate President Hassan Rouhani to the negotiating table, pulling them back is the administration's only real carrot for securing nuclear concessions.

Congress, which passed the sanctions, is leery. Israel views any easing of economic pressure as a dangerous concession that allows Iran to move closer to nuclear weapons capability. And the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee has joined the call, saying new sanctions are needed “so that Iran will face immediate consequences should it renege on its commitments or refuse to negotiate an acceptable final agreement.”

Menendez and Kirk hope to have their bill ready for other lawmakers to consider when the Senate returns on Dec. 9 from its two-week recess, legislative aides said.

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