On the heels of Secretary of State John Kerry assuring everyone that the Obama administration has absolutely zero intentions for any kind of deal-making with Iran without specific disarmament commitments — while simultaneously chiding that it would be “diplomatic malpractice” not to explore further whether Iran’s nuclear program can be defused peacefully — another State Department official alluded to the prospect of limited sanctions relief in her own testimony to Congress this afternoon. The State Department is hoping that Iran will take specific steps to slow their uranium enrichment and allow for more transparency into their nuke program in the run-up to their scheduled negotiations with Tehran in Geneva on October 15th and 16th, and to create a more hospitable diplomatic environment (one supposes), they’re wondering if Congress wouldn’t mind holding off on pursuing any additional sanctions against Iran in the meantime. Via Reuters:

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator with Iran, also urged U.S. lawmakers to hold off on imposing additional sanctions against Iran ahead of the talks.

In testimony for Congress, Sherman held out the possibility of sanctions relief for Iran, but she made it clear the United States expected concrete actions from Tehran before this could happen and said all U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program must be addressed before the core sanctions could be removed.

“We will be looking for specific steps by Iran that address core issues, including but not limited to, the pace and scope of its enrichment program, the transparency of its overall nuclear program and (stockpiles) of enriched uranium,” Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“The Iranians in return will doubtless be seeking some relief from comprehensive international sanctions that are now in place,” she added. “We have been clear that only concrete viable steps, and verifiable steps, can offer a path to sanctions relief.”

And in their press conference today, another State official talked about slowing down the rate of economic sanctions as a possible avenue for diplomatic encouragement, via the WFB:

HARF: But we have to do things, broadly speaking, in this moment that we have an opportunity for diplomacy to work to make that diplomacy work. And I’m not going to go into every detail about what sanctions we might like and what sanctions we might not think are as useful right now. But in general, we need to create a climate where diplomacy has the opportunity to work, has the best chance of working. Because let’s all be clear about how difficult this is. This is not an easy process. It’s very complicated. So we need to set the conditions and we need to set the stage, and we need to do everything we can to give us the best chance to succeed diplomatically, because that’s everyone’s goal, that we resolve this crisis diplomatically, and so we have to give ourselves a chance to do that.

Q: But it sanctions brought onto the table, why wouldn’t more sanctions make them even more eager to rein in their nuclear program and thereby get relief from the sanctions?

HARF: Well, we’ll keep talking to Congress about when and if and what those new sanctions might look like. We’re having those discussions right now. I don’t think anyone has ruled out supporting additional sanctions.

Hmm. You would think that the White House would want to have a bunch of possible sanctions ready and rarin’ to go at their disposal, the better with which to continue to pressure Iran, rather than get too friendly — no? That seems to be what at least several bipartisan lawmakers are thinking, and some are moving forward with ideas for enhanced sanctions behind the scenes, via CBS News:

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a member of the Senate Banking Committee, is in favor of a tough new round of sanctions.

“We should judge Iranian leaders by their actions, not their words,” Kirk said Tuesday. “So long as Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapons capability, build longer-range ballistic missiles, sponsor terrorism around the world and abuse human rights, the Senate should impose maximum economic pressure on Iran to give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”

On Monday, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he welcomed diplomatic engagement with Iran, but said it “cannot be used to buy time, avoid sanctions and continue the march toward nuclear weapons capability.” …

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, credited America’s “damaging sanctions” for getting Rouhani on the phone and said the U.S. must increase economic pressure “until Iran stops its nuclear drive.”

And here is Sen. Kirk’s statement after the aforementioned Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier today:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) today issued the following statement following U.S. State Department Under Secretary Wendy Sherman’s statements urging the U.S. Senate to hold off on considering any new sanctions against Iran:

“The State Department should not aid and abet a European appeasement policy by pressuring the Senate to delay sanctions while the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism races toward a nuclear weapons capability. The international community should judge Iranian leaders by their actions, not their words. So long as Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapons capability, build longer range ballistic missiles, sponsor terrorism around the world and abuse human rights, the Senate should impose maximum economic pressure on Iran to give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”