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Kerry urges Congress not to push Iran sanctions

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 8:45 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry urged members of Congress on Tuesday not to pursue tougher sanctions against Iran that some lawmakers say would help ensure the interim deal signed last month leads to a final one that keeps Iran's nuclear program peaceful.

“Believe me, we are all skeptical,” Kerry told members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “But we now have the best chance we've ever had” to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Iran.

“We're asking you to give our negotiators and our experts the time and the space to do their jobs,” Kerry said. That means “to hold off with new sanctions while we negotiate. I'm not saying never. I'm just saying not right now.”

The deal Kerry signed last month obligates the United States not to impose new sanctions during the six-month period of the deal. The House of Representatives passed tougher sanctions in July, and the Senate is considering a bill with new sanctions that would go into effect after the interim deal expires.

“We'll do sanctions tied to the endgame where the relief will only come if they stop the enrichment program, dismantle the reactor and turn over the enriched uranium,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told CNN on Monday.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said in a statement that the interim deal “will effectively freeze Iran's nuclear program” and is better than the status quo, “which allows Iran to freely pursue its nuclear ambitions away from the prying eyes of the international weapons inspectors.”

Connolly's was one of the few voices supportive of the agreement at the hearing.

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