WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish lawmakers said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to raise with President Obama the possibility of deferring congressional sanctions as leverage in nuclear talks with Iran.
Kerry’s spokeswoman denied it, saying the lawmakers were “projecting what they want to hear.”
Kerry met Thursday with about a dozen Jewish lawmakers to discuss a range of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Israel’s conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, along with the Iran talks.
Months ago, the Obama administration had buried congressional bids for deferred congressional sanctions that would kick in only should the talks fail.
Obama and Kerry had argued that existing sanctions were sufficient pressure and that new sanctions would be seen as bad faith.
Lawmakers attending the meeting with Kerry told JTA that they asked Kerry if he was ready to reconsider his opposition to deferred sanctions.
They said he answered that such a bill “might strengthen his hand” and that he would raise it with the White House. The report of the meeting first appeared in Al Monitor, a Middle East news site.
Marie Harf, his spokeswoman, denied the reports on Twitter, saying “Kerry made clear we oppose new sanctions legislation while we negotiate, period.” In another tweet she said its “not breaking news that sometimes members hear and project what they want to hear.”
Kerry suggested earlier this week that the Obama consideration may consider extending the talks beyond the July 20 deadline, saying that Iran and the major powers had made progress in the talks but that substantive gaps remained.
According to reports, Iran is resisting demands by the major powers that it dismantle most of its uranium enrichment capability and instead is pressing for an inspections regime as the central mechanism keeping it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), one of the lawmakers at the Kerry meeting, would not offer details, but told JTA that “from the nature of the conversation, I sensed an opening toward triggered sanctions.”