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Pause sought in Iran sanctions push

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is asking Congress to hold off on enacting new sanctions against Iran. It says a pause in the push to impose new penalties would give negotiators flexibility in talks now under way to get Iran to comply with demands it prove its nuclear program is peaceful.

Even as U.S. officials argue that tough sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, the White House and State Department said Friday the administration wants lawmakers to wait on new sanctions legislation to give the negotiations time to get traction.

But, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it was the consensus of the administration’s national security teams that a pause “would be helpful in terms of providing some flexibility while we see if these negotiations will move forward.” She said the position was delivered to lawmakers and congressional aides at a White House meeting on Thursday.

“While we understand that Congress may consider new sanctions, we think this is a time for a pause, as we asked for in the past, to see if negotiations can gain traction,” Psaki told reporters.

She noted that additional sanctions can always be imposed later if the Iranians fail to meet their obligations. She stressed that no existing sanctions are being lifted.

At the White House, national security council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the negotiations would not last indefinitely without progress and movement from Iran.

The United States and other world powers fear Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. The Islamic republic says its program is for peaceful energy production, and this week’s meetings in part focused on how to scale back its enrichment of material that can be used to generate power or nuclear warhead material.

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