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How An Unrelated Health Care Dispute Could Be Obama's Silver Lining On Iran Sanctions

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HEALTH CARE OBAMA
President Barack Obama speaks about his signature health care law in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. Bowing to pressure, President Barack Obama intends to permit continued sale of individual insurance plans that have been canceled because they failed to meet coverage standards under the health care law, officials said Thursday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate delay over an unrelated health care issue could be the silver lining for President Barack Obama in his repeated pleas to Congress to hold off on a new round of Iran sanctions.

With talks between Western powers and Tehran scheduled in Geneva next week, the president has spoken to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other senators pressing for a delay in any additional penalties while dispatching Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry to Capitol Hill to make a similar argument.

"If we're serious about pursuing diplomacy, then there's no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective and that brought them to the table in the first place," Obama said at the White House on Thursday.

Several Republicans and Democrats have rebuffed Obama, insisting that sanctions forced Iran to negotiate and the United States should not back down now. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in a statement Thursday, "At this time, I see no reason to let up the pressure," while 63 House Republicans and Democrats wrote to Senate leaders urging them to act quickly on sanctions.

Republican and Democratic aides said Friday that debate on the annual defense bill could be delayed until later next week, in part because of Senate action on a separate pharmaceutical bill. Senators are expected to press for a vote on Iran sanctions as part of the defense bill.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., wants a vote during consideration of that legislation on his measure to make lawmakers disclose which of their aides are enrolling in the president's new health care law as part of an ongoing effort to discredit "Obamacare."

Time spent on that bill could give Reid time to delay the defense bill and a likely vote on tough, new penalties on Iran just as negotiators are sitting down in Geneva.

The House overwhelmingly approved the sanctions in July. The legislation blacklisted Iran's mining and construction sectors and committed the U.S. to the goal of eliminating all Iranian oil exports worldwide by 2015. The Senate Banking Committee pushed off its parallel bill this week so lawmakers are eyeing the Senate defense bill.

Earlier, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the administration needs more time — without new sanctions — to pursue a deal with Iran.

"We have to test this regime," she said on "CBS This Morning." One key obstacle, she said, would be the "generations of suspicion" between Washington and Tehran.

Pressure has been building within both parties in Congress to toughen economic sanctions already in place. Iran repeatedly has denied it is trying to build nuclear weapons.

Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion last week that Iran is taking advantage of U.S. and international patience, Power said she doesn't believe that's the case. "The sign that this is not a good deal" for Iran is that Tehran hasn't yet accepted it, she said.

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