President draws redline in warning Congress on Iran sanctions

President draws redline in warning Congress on Iran sanctions

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President Obama and PM Cameron warn against lawmakers imposing further sanctions on Iran

President Obama - Prime Minister Cameron - East Wing, White House | Image -
President Obama - Prime Minister Cameron - East Wing, White House | Image -

WASHINGTON, January 16, 2015 — Taking a tough stance against Congress, President Obama has warned the American people that lawmakers could plunge America into another Middle East war. The threat comes from their determination to enact new sanctions against Iran in an effort to stem that country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Swearing to veto any new sanctions, Obama has been encouraging both Democrats and Republicans to refrain from debating them while negotiations with Iran are still taking place.

The President also said that he was not suggesting that there would be any “war footing” should negotiations with Iran be unsuccessful.

“When I came into office, I made a commitment that Iran would not obtain nuclear weapons, that we would do everything we could to prevent that,” Obama said.

“If Iran obtained a nuclear weapon than it would trigger an arms race in the Middle East, make our job in terms of preventing the proliferation … much more difficult,” he continued.

Today’s statement comes on the tail of the P5+1 group — the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany — kicking off talks with Iran in Geneva on January 15. The talks will continue until the end of June.

Talks were restarted after parties failed to find an agreement by the previous November 24 deadline.

Experts are divided as to whether a deal over Iran’s nuclear capabilities can be reached. Regardless of whether it can or cannot be reached, the president has said:

“I will veto a bill that comes to my desk. And I will make this argument to the American people as to why I’m doing so. And I respectfully request them to hold off for a few months to see if we have the possibility of solving a big problem without resorting potentially to war. And I think that’s worth doing,”said Obama.

“There is no good argument for us to try to undercut, undermine the negotiations until they’ve played themselves out,” Obama told reporters. “Congress needs to show patience.”

With the start of the 114th congress, the decision to increase sanctions is in control of House and Senate Republicans.

At a Friday news conference, Obama and Britian’s Prime Minister David Carmeron were unified in asking their top lawmakers to wait, asking for the time to let “diplomatic negotiations” work.

Cameron says that sanctions would further splinter an international community now unified against Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

“I’ve consistently said we leave all options on the table. But Congress should be aware that if this diplomatic solution fails, then the risks and likelihood this ends up at some point a military confrontation is heightened. And Congress will have to own that as well,” the president said. “And we may not be able to rebuild the kind of coalition we need in that context if the world believes we were not serious about negotiations.”

Some economic sanctions against Iran were lifted after the 2013 P5+1 agreement that halted some parts of Iran’s nuclear program. That deal included a promise by Iran to curb its nuclear activity. But Iran has failed to meet that agreement despite the fact that the  final deal has been extended twice, with the next deadline looming in June.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani condemns new economic sanctions as an “invasion.” He says that a move by Washington would contradict earlier agreements stating that sanctions would be an act of aggression that would be met with an aggressive response.

“Sanctions are an invasion of the Iranian nation. We should resist the invasion and put the invaders in their place,” Iranian president Hassan Rouhani told officials in remarks broadcast by state TV. “We should not allow the continuation and repetition of the invasion.”

The United States is putting more pressure on Iran by penalizing around 30 businesses, banks and individuals who are allegedly helping Iran proceed with working on its nuclear program, supporting terrorism and letting Iran evade prior sanctions.

“Today we took additional steps in our effort to maintain pressure on the government of Iran,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.

The new set of sanctions are consistent with the interim agreement according to the US, they are not an expansion of the sanctions regime, but rather extending the list of persons and entities under types of sanctions that are currently effective.

Cameron says that while in Washington, he has appealed to members of the Senate to take additional sanctions off the table for now. But some lawmakers believe that it is time to double down on sanctions while continuing diplomatic talks, as Iran is suspected of continuing to develop nuclear weapons that could be used on Israel.

“I have contacted a couple of senators this morning and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon — not in any way as the British prime minister to tell the American Senate what it should or shouldn’t do. That wouldn’t be right,” Cameron said. “But simply to make the point that as a country that stands alongside America in these vital negotiations that it is the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or the further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help bring the talks to a successful conclusion and they could fracture the international unity there has been.”

There is support in both parties for more sanctions.

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