Obama: Congress wants Iran 'tough' look

President Obama said Friday that sanctions advocates in Congress want to “look tough on Iran” for political gain and suggested they are risking triggering a war.

Obama's comments in his end-of-the-year press conference follow Thursday's announcement that he would veto new sanctions legislation introduced this week. Twenty-six senators — including 12 Democrats, many of whom are vulnerable in 2014 — have signed on to the legislation, which would target Iran's energy sector if Iran fails to comply with the interim nuclear deal reached last month.

“I'm not surprised that there's been some talk by some members of Congress about new sanctions,” Obama said. “I think that the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you're running for office or if you're in office.”

He said seeking a diplomatic resolution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program was critical.

“The alternative is possibly us having to engage in some kind of conflict to resolve the problem, with all kinds of unintended consequences,” Obama said.

He reiterated his commitment to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon and that military action remains a possibility to meet that goal.

“I'm keeping all options on the table, but if I can do it diplomatically, that's how we should do it,” Obama said. “And I would think that would be the preference of everybody up on Capitol Hill, because that sure is the preference of the American people.”

Sanctions proponents, led by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), argue that the threat of fresh sanctions will force Iran to make concessions. Obama disagreed.

“What I've said to members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — is there is no need for new sanctions legislation. Not yet,” he said. “Now, if Iran comes back and says, 'we can't give you assurances that we're not going to weaponize,' if they're not willing to address some of their capabilities that we know could end up in them having breakout capacity, it's not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, strengthen sanctions even further.”

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