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Top Democrats seek intelligence briefings, report on Iran

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (C), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, speaks to reporters after departing a ful
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (C), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, speaks to reporters after departing a ful

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The leaders of three U.S. Senate committees asked intelligence officials on Friday for regular briefings on whether Iran is complying with an interim agreement to rein in its nuclear program, as Congress weighs whether to impose a new round of sanctions on Tehran.

President Barack Obama's administration has urged lawmakers not to impose more sanctions during negotiations over Iran's disputed nuclear program, saying it could alienate both the Islamic Republic and other countries involved in the talks by making Washington appear to be acting in bad faith.

The letter to James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, also asked for a report by December 12 on any effects congressional action on new sanctions legislation might have on the negotiations with Iran.

Iran and six world powers plan expert-level talks next week to work out details of implementing the agreement for Tehran to curb its nuclear program - which it says is for civilian purposes but the West says is aimed at making weapons - in return for an easing of existing sanctions.

Many lawmakers oppose easing sanctions, arguing that the trade restrictions brought Iran to the table by crippling its oil-based economy and say more sanctions would increase the pressure for Tehran to curb its nuclear plans.

The letter, dated Friday, asked for briefings from the intelligence community every 45 days, starting on January 30, on whether Iran is complying with terms of the interim deal reached in Geneva on November 24.

It was from Senators Tim Johnson, chairman of the Banking Committee, which oversees sanctions legislation, Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Intelligence Committee, and Carl Levin, who heads the Armed Services Committee.

If Tehran adheres to the inspection and verification system included in the agreement, the letter said, "this will help to build confidence that, at least in the short term, Iran will be unable to pose a credible military threat to its neighbors in the region, including Israel."

Many members of Congress, including several of Obama's fellow Democrats, are more hawkish on Iran than the Obama administration, expressing concerns that Tehran is not to be trusted and poses a threat to U.S. ally Israel.

Secretary of State John Kerry is due to testify about Iran to members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday and other senior State and Treasury officials are to be witnesses at a Senate hearing on the interim deal on Thursday.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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