President Obama, rejecting congressional demands to impose new economic sanctions on Iran, said “there’s no reason to do it right now” when negotiations are under way over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
“Listen, I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation,” Obama said yesterday at a White House news conference. “But if we’re serious about negotiations, we’ve got to create an atmosphere in which Iran is willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them.”
The president spoke a day after 26 senators, half of them Democrats, introduced a bill to hit Iran with further sanctions if it violates a six-month accord with the U.S. and other nations or fails to reach a final agreement restricting its nuclear program. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said Obama would veto such legislation, a threat the president didn’t repeat yesterday.
The sanctions measure puts the administration at odds with some of its allies in Congress, as well as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the biggest pro-Israel lobbying group, which endorsed the bill.
“I’m not surprised that there’s been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions,” Obama told reporters. “The politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you’re running for office or if you’re in office.”
In addition to further sanctions on Iran, the legislation calls for the U.S. to support Israel if it “is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program.”
The legislation would require further reductions in Iranian oil sales and apply additional penalties to strategic elements of the Iranian economy, including engineering, mining and construction, according to the statement.
Existing sanctions “brought Iran to the negotiating table, and a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table,” Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Dec. 19 in announcing introduction of the measure with Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois.
Ten senior Democratic senators, the heads of other committees, criticized Menendez’s action, saying in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, that new sanctions “would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail.”
Those signing the letter included Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, chairman of the Banking Committee, and Dianne Feinstein of California, chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence. Their objection makes it less likely that Reid will permit the bill to advance when the Senate returns in January after a holiday break.
One provision of the Nov. 24 joint plan of action between world powers and Iran says that “the U.S. administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the president and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions” during the six-month period allocated to negotiate a final deal.