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White House says it's 'premature' to criticize nuclear deal with Iran

November 08. 2013 9:34PM

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE, Nov 8 (Reuters) - The White House said on Friday it was "premature" to criticize a deal being discussed in Geneva for Iran to curb its nuclear program, despite unease about the plan in Israel and the U.S. Senate, because an agreement has not yet been reached.

"There is no deal, but there is an opportunity here for a possible diplomatic solution, and that is exactly what we are pursuing," Josh Earnest, deputy White House spokesman, told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama on Air Force One to New Orleans.

"So any critique of the deal is premature," Earnest said.

Tehran is seeking relief from financial sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union that have slashed its oil sales, severely hurting its economy.

Obama said on Thursday that he was open to "modest relief" on sanctions if Iran halts advancements on its nuclear program as negotiations on a permanent deal continue.

Asked about sharp criticism of the proposals by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Earnest said that the United States and Israel were "in complete agreement about the need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

Washington and its allies believe Tehran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for seeking the ability to make a weapon, a charge Iran denies.

Netanyahu has warned Secretary of State John Kerry and his European counterparts that Iran would be getting "the deal of the century" if they carried out proposals to grant Tehran limited, temporary sanctions relief in exchange for a partial suspension, and pledge not to expand, its nuclear program.

U.S. lawmakers have threatened to slap a new sanctions on Iran even as the talks in Geneva have appeared to progress.

The Senate banking committee may introduce a bill with new sanctions on Iran's oil sales after legislation passed by the House of Representatives in July. And some Republicans are considering introducing a package of tighter Iran sanctions as an amendment to a defense authorization bill that is expected to be debated next month.

"We need to see the details, but if there really is a deal this bad, lawmakers are going to have to explore their options," a senior aide to a senator said on Friday.

Kerry has made an unscheduled trip to Geneva where Iran and six major powers are holding high-stakes talks on curbing Tehran's nuclear program.

The current round of talks is expected to end on Saturday.