WASHINGTON, Feb 4 (Reuters) - An initial agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program was "not perfect" but it bought time to try to get a comprehensive deal, a top U.S. official said on Tuesday in response to sharp criticism from Congress.
Major world powers struck an agreement with Iran on Nov. 24 to offer it an estimated $7 billion in sanctions relief in return for steps to restrain Iranian atomic activities. The deal called for negotiation of a full agreement within a year.
"We see this as a first step so we don't consider the gaps that exist loopholes because this is not a final agreement," Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the lead U.S. negotiator with Iran, told lawmakers.
"This is not perfect but this does freeze and roll back their program in significant ways and give us time on the clock to in fact negotiate that comprehensive agreement," Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
U.S. lawmakers have some influence over Iran policy because of their ability to pass legislation imposing fresh sanctions on Iran, something U.S. President Barack Obama has opposed during the current negotiations and has threatened to veto.
Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and also serves on the Senate Banking Committee that has primary jurisdiction on sanctions, made clear that he was not satisfied by the initial agreement.
"We have placed our incredibly effective international sanctions regime on the line without clearly defining the parameters of what we expect in a final agreement," Menendez said. "We need to guard against wanting a deal so much that we concede more than we gain. At the end of the day, Iran can no longer be a nuclear weapons threshold state."
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