By DONNA CASSATA
WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ Vice President Joe Biden and senior Obama administration officials convinced a number of senators on Thursday to hold off on another round of Iran sanctions as Western powers test Tehran's willingness to scale back its nuclear aims.
The full-court press didn't sway every senator who participated in the hours-long, closed-door briefing, but the chances that the Senate Banking Committee would draft new, punitive measures next week just as negotiations occurred in Geneva diminished significantly.
"As one member of the committee, my attitude is if something is going on that may lead to a positive result, let's see where that ends up," said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., as he emerged from the session. "We can always pass a sanctions bill."
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said the administration was "making a good case" for delaying another round of penalties although he said he had not made a decision.
Joining Biden in the discussions with Democratic leadership and committee members were Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, a lineup that underscored the administration's strong desire to get Congress to wait on a new package of penalties. Although the White House insists that tough sanctions have forced Iran to negotiate, it wants Congress to pause to give negotiators flexibility in talks with Iran.
"I like John Kerry, I got a lot of trust in John Kerry," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who explained that it might make sense for the committee to wait, finalize any legislation "and let them (the administration and Western powers) do their negotiations."
Unnerving for the administration is the prospect that a Senate panel would be crafting new sanctions at the same time as Iran and six world powers meet in Geneva next week for another round of negotiations.
The chairman of the Banking committee, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said he was undecided on whether the panel would craft the bill next week. Republican and Democratic congressional aides indicated that it was unlikely on the same days as the international talks.