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Washington (AFP) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged lawmakers to “calm down” Wednesday over proposed new sanctions on Iran, warning they could scuttle diplomatic efforts to rein in Tehran’s nuclear drive.

“The risk is that if Congress were to unilaterally move to raise sanctions, it could break faith with those negotiations and actually stop them and break them apart,” Kerry said.

Washington’s top diplomat was speaking before beginning a closed-door meeting with senators, many of whom are skeptical of the White House’s request for a freeze on new sanctions.

The House of Representatives has already passed legislation that toughens already-strict sanctions on Iran, whose economy by all accounts is reeling from the punitive action.

The Senate Banking Committee is mulling new sanctions too, and some key members of President Barack Obama’s own Democratic Party back a tougher stance despite the diplomatic opening.

“What we’re asking everybody to do is calm down, look hard at what can be achieved and what the realities are,” Kerry told reporters.

“Let’s give them a few weeks, see if it works,” he said, adding that there was “unity” among the six powers — UN Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany — negotiating with the Islamic republic.

“If this doesn’t work, we reserve the right to dial back up the sanctions,” he also noted.

In that event Kerry said he would return to Capitol Hill “asking for increased sanctions. And we always reserve the military option.”

Washington and Western allies allege Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran denies.

Obama has vowed he will not allow Tehran to develop an atomic weapon. But last week’s Geneva negotiations between Iran and six world powers failed to reach an interim deal to halt its program.

Kerry faces tough questions from Senate Republicans and Democrats who bristled when the White House warned Tuesday that toughening sanctions could trigger a “march to war.”

The administration’s remarks marked a significant hardening of Obama’s stance towards Congress on sanctions as Washington prepares to resume talks with Iran on November 20.

As he entered the meeting, Kerry addressed criticism that negotiations failed in Geneva, saying Iran would have jumped at the interim deal if it was to their benefit.

“We have a pause because it’s a tough proposal, and people need to think about it, obviously,” Kerry said.

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