President Barack Obama on Friday told reporters that the call for new sanctions on Iran emenating from Congress is at least partly because “the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good,” reiterating that new legislation is not necessary yet.
At his end-of-the-year press conference, Obama was asked about the seeming wariness of Democrats due to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, including Sen. Robert Menendez filing new sanctions legislation against Iran over its nuclear program. “I’m not surprised that there’s been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions,” Obama said in response. “I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you’re running for office, or if you’re in office.”
The White House has been pressing Congress to hold off on enacting new sanctions legislation for the past several weeks, believing that any Congressional action in that regard could scuttle the interim deal hammered out between the P5+1 — the United States of America, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia — and Iran in November. To that end, Obama reiterated that he believes at the current moment, “there is no need for new sanctions legislation. Not yet.”
Obama didn’t dismiss the possibility that new sanctions may in the future be necessary. “Now, if Iran comes back and says, we can’t give you assurances we’re not going to weaponize, if they’re not willing to address some of their capabilities that we know could end up resulting in them having breakout capacity, it’s not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, sanctions even further,” he said. “I’ll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there’s no reason to do it right now.”
The eagerness of Congress to pass new embargoes on Iran’s oil and petroleum exports is no secret, Obama said. “I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation,” he said. “We can do that in a day. On a dime.” For now, he continued, the negotiations need to continue to see if a final deal can be cobbled together within the Joint Plan of Action’s six month window for talks.
While several other Democrats are joining Menendez in co-sponsoring his bill, the White House isn’t alone on the Hill. On Thursday, ten Senate committee chairs signed onto a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to consult with them before allowing any new sanctions legislation to reach the floor. Press Secretary Jay Carney has already issued a warning to Congress that Obama would veto the Menendez bill should it actually pass through the Senate and reach the president’s desk.