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Lead U.S. Iran Negotiator Asks Congress To Delay Sanctions

Wendy Sherman says Geneva will show if Iran's charm offensive is for real.

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WASHINGTON — The lead U.S. negotiator on Iran Wendy Sherman has asked Congress to delay further Iran sanctions until after talks in Geneva later this month. The talks would show whether there was "anything real" in Iran's recent diplomatic overtures to the West.

"We must remain mindful of the long history of Iranian deception regarding its nuclear program and insist that Iran's new tone be met as soon as possible by new and concrete and verifiable actions," said Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. "We must also do our part to ensure the success of this effort and to avoid any measures that could prematurely inhibit our ability to secure a diplomatic solution."

"I would hope that you will allow us the time to begin these negotiations and see if, in fact, there is anything real here," Sherman said. "We do believe it would be helpful for you all to please allow this meeting to happen before moving forward to consider those new sanctions."

Sherman said that the U.S. government shutdown had made it difficult to enforce existing sanctions on Iran and cited a Daily Beast report illustrating how the Office of Terrorist Financing and Intelligence and its subset, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, had been forced to furlough the majority of their staff.

"I must note here...our ability to do that, to enforce sanctions, to stop sanctions evaders is being hampered significantly by the shutdown," Sherman said.

Sherman faced skepticism from several members of the committee about whether or not the new Iranian diplomatic overtures constitute a real effort to improve relations with the West or are simply a tactic to buy time as it moves ahead with its nuclear program.

Senator Jim Risch, a Republican from Idaho, said that we should "flat out ignore" new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and said he had "no optimism" about the talks in Geneva schedule for October 15 and 16.

"This charm offensive so far to me is not charming," said Delaware Senator Chris Coons.

Sherman told the committee that the U.S. would be able to determine soon whether or not the Iranians were serious about making a nuclear deal.

"I think we will know when we meet on the 15th and 16th whether there is anything real here or not," she said.

Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.

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