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Obama administration wants Senate to hold off on Iran sanctions

The Obama administration is asking the Senate to hold off on passing Iran sanctions legislation until the new year.

Foreign Policy magazine reported that Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg sent a letter to Congress Friday also expressing "serious substantive concerns" with the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act:

As I testified before the Congress in October, it is our hope that any legislative initiative would preserve and maximize the President’s flexibility, secure greater cooperation from our partners in taking effective action, and ultimately facilitate a change in Iranian policies. However, we are entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran. This requires that we keep the focus on Iran. At this juncture, I am concerned that this legislation, in its current form, might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts. In addition to the timing, we have serious substantive concerns, including the lack of flexibility, inefficient monetary thresholds and penalty levels, and blacklisting that could cause unintended foreign policy consequences.

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin has more on negotiations about the bill’s content:

According to one Hill source, the Dodd bill isn’t stalled, really. It’s more that the bill is now the subject of negotiations between the administration and key senators over the language of the sanctions. One issue, the source said, is whether the bill’s sanctions on third-party countries who are involved in selling refined petroleum products to Iran could be exempted if they are part of efforts to combat Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Under the current language, the president could waive sanctions on particular countries if he chooses, but the administration would prefer that the exemption be given to cooperating countries up front, according to the source.

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