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POLITICS: PennAve

White House defends nuclear talks with Iran despite illicit arms shipment

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Politics,White House,Iran,Israel,PennAve,Meghashyam Mali,Jay Carney,Nuclear Weapons,Foreign Policy

The White House on Wednesday criticized Iran for an illicit shipment of weapons headed to Gaza, calling it “unacceptable,” but insisted it would press ahead with nuclear talks.

“These illicit actions are unacceptable to the international community,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

Carney, though, said the administration would continue negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program, but also standing up to Iran.

"We continue to have enormous issues with Iran, its sponsor of terrorist organizations, its bad behavior in the region that manifests itself in many ways. And we continue to take all the necessary steps to address those challenges,” Carney said. “But it’s entirely appropriate to continue to pursue the possibility of reaching a resolution on the nuclear program."

The Obama spokesman confirmed to reporters that Israel on Wednesday had intercepted "a suspected shipment of illicit Iranian arms" headed to Gaza.

Carney said that U.S. security officials were working with their Israeli counterparts on the matter. He said the White House had directed the Defense Department to develop plans to act once the U.S. first learned about the covert arms shipment.

The news is likely to spark further criticism of the administration’s nuclear talks with Iran.

The administration finalized an interim deal with Tehran in January over that country’s nuclear program. Iran says it is seeking nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but the international community fears it is building weapons.

Under the terms of the interim deal, world powers will freeze some sanctions in exchange for Iran halting parts of its nuclear program. Both sides have 6 months to negotiate a long-term deal.

But critics say the terms don’t stop Iran’s nuclear quest and only undermined the international sanctions regime.

Obama has called for time to make diplomacy work, despite concerns from key allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, and lawmakers from both parties.

Obama last year, backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., managed to hold back a bipartisan Senate push for an additional round of sanctions, which the president vowed to veto.

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