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US Senate to delay committee's Iran bill vote

US Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd L) meets in Lausanne, Switzerland with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) on March 18, 2015 over Iran's nuclear programme

US Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed on Thursday to delay until at least mid-April a vote on a closely watched bill that would require President Barack Obama to seek congressional approval of any nuclear agreement with Iran.

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Congressional aides told Reuters that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s vote would now take place on April 14.

The announcement, which came after an intense lobbying push by Obama and administration officials, gives international negotiators more breathing room as they attempt to meet a late-March deadline for a framework agreement.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had said he wanted to have the committee vote next Thursday.

But Senate Democrats balked, reluctant to advance legislation the Obama administration has said could have a “profoundly negative impact” on the delicate nuclear talks with Iran.

The White House said the bill impinged on the president’s authority by forcing him to obtain congressional approval, and could prevent a deal from succeeding by removing Obama’s ability to temporarily waive sanctions.

Republicans seek allies among Democrats

The timetable for easing crippling economic sanctions is a major issue in the talks between six world powers and Tehran. In a joint statement, Corker and Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the foreign relations panel, said they agreed to "mark up" after Congress returns from its early-April recess, in order to win the strongest possible support for it.

In a markup, a committee debates legislation and considers amendments before voting on whether to recommend it to the full Senate. Lawmakers and aides say there is a good chance that enough Democrats will join Republicans to give the bill the 60 votes it would need to advance in the Senate.

If passed by the Senate, the legislation would likely move quickly in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold 245 seats, compared to just 188 Democrats.

Republicans are generally more hawkish about Iran, and skeptical about Obama’s negotiations, than the president’s fellow Democrats.

If Obama carries through on his veto threat, the bill’s backers insist they could marshal the two-thirds of the House and Senate necessary to override the veto. Democratic leaders say it is far too early to tell.

'Not close to an agreement'

A senior European negotiator said on Thursday that the six world powers were unlikely to reach a framework agreement with Iran in the coming days as the sides are still far apart on key issues.

“Contrary to what the Iranians are saying with regard to 90 percent of an accord being done, that’s not correct,” the negotiator told reporters on condition of anonymity. “We are not close to an agreement.”

Meanwhile Obama urged Iranians to seize the “historic” opportunity presented by nuclear talks and remake long-troubled ties between the two countries.

In a video message directed at Iranians celebrating the new year festival of Nowruz, Obama said that “we have the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different future between our countries”.

“There are people in both our countries and beyond who oppose a diplomatic resolution,” Obama said. “My message to you – the people of Iran – is that together we have to speak up for the future we seek."

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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