US President Barack Obama implored Democratic senators Wednesday to put off new sanctions against Iran that he warned could derail delicate nuclear talks. Regrouping at the start of a busy election year, Obama also encouraged Democrats to coalesce behind a proposed minimum wage hike as a cornerstone of the party's economic message to voters.
An evening session in the East Room of the White House offered Obama an opportunity to deliver a message privately and in person that his administration has been making publicly for weeks: Give budding negotiations with Tehran time to play out before turning the screw further.
A six-month deal between Iran and world powers takes effect next week, but prominent senators in both parties have balked at the deal and want even tougher sanctions.
"The president did speak passionately about how we have to seize this opportunity," Senator Jeff Merkley said. "If Iran isn't willing in the end to make the decisions that are necessary to make it work, he'll be ready to sign the bill to tighten those sanctions. But we've got to give this six months."
Two senators who attended the meeting said Democrats present seemed receptive to Obama's appeal, reflecting a growing sense on Capitol Hill that lawmakers will take a wait-and-see approach before putting new sanctions into effect.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made clear that a vote wouldn't occur anytime soon.