WASHINGTON (Reuters) — President Barack
Obama took his hard line against new sanctions over Iran's nuclear
program directly to U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday by pledging in his annual
State of the Union address to veto any legislation that threatens talks
Obama said an interim agreement seeking to curb Iran's nuclear
program was already taking effect, and the ongoing diplomacy was
important for U.S. safety.
"The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity
possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new
sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto
it," Obama said in his speech in the House of Representatives
"For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a
chance to succeed," he said.
He reassured Israel, a U.S. ally that is extremely wary of Iran's
nuclear program, referring to "a Jewish state that knows America
will always be at their side." He added that all options — including
the military option — were on the table for keeping Iran from
getting a nuclear weapon if need be.
Tehran rejects allegations that it is seeking the capability to
produce nuclear arms, insisting its atomic ambitions are limited to
peaceful purposes such as the generation of electricity.
Fifty-nine of the 100 U.S. senators, including 16 of Obama's fellow
Democrats, co-sponsored a bill that would impose new restrictions on
Iran if talks on a permanent deal falter.
But Iran has warned it will walk away from negotiations on its
nuclear program — raising the risk of conflict in the Middle East — if the bill becomes law. The measure is now stalled in the Senate
amid expectations the chamber's Democratic leaders will not allow a
Supporters insist the bill would help hold push Iran during the
negotiations. "The Menendez-Kirk bill is an insurance policy against
Iran's development of nuclear weapons and ensures a process for the
peaceful dismantlement of Iran's nuclear infrastructure," Illinois
Republican Senator Mark Kirk said in a statement after Obama's
Obama said U.S. diplomacy "backed by pressure" had rolled back
Iran's nuclear program for the first time in a decade, as
negotiators from six world powers hold talks with Iran.
"These negotiations will be difficult. They may not succeed," he
said, adding his administration was "clear-eyed" about Iran's
backing for terrorist organizations and mistrust "that cannot be
washed away" between Washington and Tehran.
"If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the
Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can
negotiate with less powerful adversaries today," Obama said.
Obama promised to support more sanctions if Iran backs away from the
But if the negotiations succeed, he said, Iran could take "an
important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have
resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without
the risks of war."
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Peter Cooney)