By Jamie Crawford
The United States would be prepared to consider relaxing certain sanctions on Iran if it engaged in confidence-building steps to prove its sincerity to negotiate over its disputed nuclear program, a top State Department official said Thursday.
"There may be some elements that we can do initially if they take verifiable, concrete actions that will put time on the clock that are reversible or in fact don't go to any of the key sanctions that have brought them to the table," Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sherman made clear the entire sanctions regime targeting Iran would not be lifted "any time soon" unless the entire litany of concerns about Iran's nuclear program were fully addressed.
Iran's recent opening and seeming willingness to negotiate seriously over its nuclear program is believed to be a result of crippling sanctions on its economy.
Sherman's comments come as members of both the Foreign Relations and Banking committees in the Senate consider additional sanctions as a way of increasing the pressure on Iran to negotiate in good faith with the United States and its international partners.
While that process moves forward, Sherman said such measures should wait until the next meeting of the so-called P5+1 scheduled in Geneva later this month.
"I would hope that you will allow us the time to begin these negotiations and see if, in fact, there is anything real here," she said. "With my telling of the Iranians quite directly, that if there isn't that everyone is ready to act."
Sherman will represent the United States at the meeting in Geneva.
Some members of Congress immediately voiced concern over the Obama administration's stance, and said now was not the time to relieve any pressure on Iran.
"It is critical that we increase the pressure on Iran to increase our negotiating leverage and deny Tehran the resources to continue its nuclear program," Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "Iran is only at the table because of our economic pressure. Why fool with success?"
In her testimony, Sherman said it is still too early to tell whether Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has a real mandate from the country's supreme leader to send Iran's foreign minister to Geneva with the basis to deliver tangible progress on the nuclear issue.
"I think what you're going to get is you're going to get another dog-and-pony show," Sen. James Risch (R-ID.), told Sherman. " I think you're going to get another shuffle."