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Top US senator presses Clinton on Iran sanctions

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Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

AFP, Washington, 24 April 2010  — A day after calling Iran a "festering sore," the top US senator on Friday urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to work with lawmakers to ensure speedy approval of new sanctions against Tehran.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also pressed Clinton to patch up strained ties with Israel and help promote direct negotiations between the crucial Middle East ally and the Palestinians.

"I am writing to ask you to work with Congress to quickly complete action on the Iran sanctions legislation and to encourage you to support direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians," he wrote.

The US Senate and House of Representatives have launched discussions to meld their rival versions of legislation to target Iran’s gasoline imports in order to force the Islamic republic to freeze its suspect nuclear program.

President Barack Obama’s administration has expressed reservations about imposing new US sanctions before trying for a new round of UN sanctions, and over alienating countries that have helped Washington curb Iran’s atomic drive.

"While I support the administration’s decision to pursue sanctions at the United Nations, I think congressional action can further our mutual goal to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons activities," said Reid.

"I look forward to working with you to ensure there are no impediments to swiftly completing this legislation," he told Clinton.

Reid, who represents Nevada, also pressed the top US diplomat to defuse tensions with Israel, urging her to "clearly and unequivocally" restate Washington’s support for its ally and "unbreakable bond" with the Jewish state.

"I hope that the Obama administration will do everything possible to reduce recent tensions with Israel while reaffirming the need to move forward with the peace process. I urge you to encourage both sides to participate in direct negotiations," he said.

Iran denies Western charges that it seeks a nuclear arsenal, and has refused to freeze its program of uranium enrichment, which can be a key step towards building an atomic bomb.

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