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White House again urges halt to Iran sanctions

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 7:30 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The White House hosted 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 because of 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 reach a vote in the Senate Banking Committee last month but was held back because of appeals from the Obama 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 Democrats Sen. Tim Johnson, the committee's chairman, and Majority Leader Harry Reid.

A Johnson spokesman confirmed that a meeting on Iran took place in the White House but gave no further details. A Reid spokesman was 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 scheduled to resume Nov. 7-8 in Geneva.

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.

Sanctions imposed in 2011 by Washington and the EU have combined to slash Iran's oil exports by more than 1 million barrels per day, depriving Tehran of billions of dollars worth of sales per month and helping to drive up inflation and unemployment.

European governments took steps on Thursday to reimpose sanctions on Iran's main cargo shipping line, which, if finalized, could complicate the push to settle the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

Senators have begun debating behind closed doors a new sanctions bill that could seek further cuts in Iran's oil exports and limit the ability of the administration to issue waivers to the sanctions.

The House overwhelmingly approved new sanctions in July that seek to cut exports to almost nothing in a year.

The White House confirmed there was a meeting with Senate aides, 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.

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