President Barack Obama threatened to veto any additional sanctions against Iran during his fifth State of the Union address Tuesday, urging Congress to “give diplomacy a chance to succeed” in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program.
“If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it,” he said, before conceding that “if Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.”
Negotiators between Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S. will continue next month and will have until March 1 to develop a “political framework” and reach a final deal by July 1.
Obama’s veto threat was immediately rebuked by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), co-sponsor of a bipartisan sanctions bill spearheaded by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Under the measure, Obama would be able to delay sanctions on Iranian petroleum and mining industries if a deal is at hand, but they would go into effect should the talks ultimately break down.
“In the next few weeks, I believe we will pass the bipartisan Kirk-Menendez bill to give our children an insurance policy against a nuclear war in the Middle East,” Kirk said in his reaction to Obama’s address. House Speaker John Boehner (R) also released a letter on Wednesday inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress on February 11th to address the growing threat from Iran.
The president and his supporters have argued that the interim agreement that has frozen Iran’s nuclear program, rolled back its stockpiles of enriched uranium and paved the way for the current negotiations, prohibits the United States from initiating new sanctions and that even a timeline for imposing additional restrictions would provide Iran’s hardliners with an excuse to end the negotiations — potentially moving the two nations closer to a military confrontation.
Last week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron began calling U.S. senators informing them that “it’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions, or further threat of sanctions, at this point won’t actually help” and “could actually fracture” the international coalition negotiating with Iran.
Still, the measure is likely to see a vote in Congress in the coming days. The Banking Committee is expected to vote on sanctions next week and the bill could move to the Senate floor in February. Twelve Senate Democrats have previously cosponsored efforts to impose additional sanctions on Iran, meaning the chamber could be close to the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.