Obama: New Sanctions Would Scuttle Diplomacy

Obama: New Sanctions Would Scuttle DiplomacyObama: New Sanctions Would Scuttle Diplomacy

US President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, said any new sanctions on Iran while the nuclear talks between Tehran and the major powers are underway would guarantee the collapse of diplomacy.

"Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we've halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies – including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict," he said, Time magazine reported.

Iran denies its nuclear work may have any military objectives, saying its program is solely for peaceful applications, including electricity generation.  

Obama also said, "There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran. But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails – alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.  "It doesn't make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom."

  Opposing Rush Vote

The top Democrat on the US Senate Banking Committee said on Tuesday he did not want to rush to vote on legislation to impose more sanctions on Iran, speaking a day after the panel said it would delay hearings on the issue for a week, Reuters reported.

"There's not a rush on this. These negotiations are going forward. I don't want to disrupt the negotiations," Senator Sherrod Brown, the ranking member of the banking committee, told reporters at the US Capitol.

The banking committee had been scheduled to hold public and classified hearings on Iran this week, ahead of debate and a vote on Thursday on a bill sponsored by Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez to impose more sanctions if there is no nuclear agreement by the end of June, which has been set as a target date for clinching a comprehensive deal on Iran's nuclear program. But the panel said on Monday it would wait until next week to hold hearings.

A spokeswoman for Senator Richard Shelby, the panel's chairman, said the hearings were "rescheduled to give senators more time."

Diplomats said on Sunday Iran and the major powers would meet again next month to try to narrow differences over Tehran's nuclear program.

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday urged members of Congress to hold off on legislation, saying it would upset international talks and increase the likelihood of a military confrontation with Tehran. Brown said administration officials have been talking to lawmakers about the bill, and that committee members, especially new ones, needed more information before moving ahead.

  Democrats Hesitant   

The Hill also reported Senate Democrats on Tuesday signaled they have reservations about moving forward with Iran sanctions legislation.

Some senators who had previously backed a sanctions bill treaded carefully when asked whether they support holding a vote on legislation before the Iran talks wrap up in June. "Well let's wait and see when there's a bill. There's no bill yet," said Senator Charles Schumer. "Let's wait and see how the whole thing plays out."

"There's a question and a debate about timing, and that's something we should continue to discuss," said Senator Bob Casey. "I don't have a sense that there's anything that will happen in the near term," Casey added.

Senator Ben Cardin, who was a co-sponsor on a sanctions bill in the last Congress, said Democrats are debating when new sanctions legislation should be voted on. "The administration has a point. I think we should listen to what they have to say, and hopefully we can reach some agreement on when's the best timing for its consideration," he said.

Senator Chris Coons said he was "actively considering" whether to support holding a vote ahead of the June 30 deadline.

Without the support of at least 13 Democrats, the sanction bill will not reach a veto-proof majority of 67 votes. Last year, 17 Democrats, including Menendez, cosponsored the bill, but five of them lost reelection in November.  Menendez is not backing down, and told the Hill he would introduce his bill when he is "ready".

Senator Richard Blumenthal said he would discuss the Iran bill with Menendez and other colleagues throughout the week. "I think that the principles and convictions incorporated in the bill are significant and they deserve a hearing. The question of timing is one we need to discuss," he said.  Other Democrats played down dissension in the caucus, saying there is broad agreement that if no deal is reached, Iran should pay the price.

"We all want the same thing. We want a non-nuclear Iran, and we prefer to get there diplomatically rather than by any other outcome. So this is really a question of strategy rather than end-goal," said Senator Tim Kaine.  Kaine, who did not support the previous Menendez-Kirk bill, said he is looking at the new version because it is "different from the previous one."

Iranian parliamentarians have announced that if the US Congress votes to impose new sanctions, they will take reciprocal action and pass a bill which would require the government to scale up the country's uranium enrichment program.