Gibbs: Spring sanctions goal still stands

As the summer nears, a top White House official said that President Barack Obama's goal of getting United Nations sanctions in place for Iran this spring is still the goal.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told The Hill late last week that Obama's late-March pledge to get sanctions in place "in weeks," or "this spring," is "still operable."

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Both China and Russia, the U.N. Security Council's biggest obstacles to sanctions, have signaled in recent weeks a willingness to sign on to sanctions, even as leaders from those two countries are openly skeptical about how effective sanctions can be.


But sanctions may be softened to be amenable to the two veto-wielders at the Security Council and not stiff enough for lawmakers, who have ramped up the pressure on the White House in recent weeks.

Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) sent a letter to Obama on April 19 with 366 House signatures calling on the president to "fulfill your June 2008 pledge that you would do 'everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon'" and urging Obama to use whatever presidential powers at his means to impose "punishing measures" on Tehran.

The letter, of which there was also a similar Senate version spearheaded by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), also asks the president to "rapidly" implement the sanctions legislation -- passed in December by the House and the following month by the Senate -- when it comes out of conference.

Lawmakers have a non-binding goal of wrapping up conference work by May 28.

Iran's leaders have shown no indication that they intend to abandon their nuclear plans. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech at the U.N. in New York City last week in which he accused the U.S. of being a bully.

Ahmadinejad did not in any way suggest that his country would alter its nuclear plans, which he insists are for peaceful, energy purposes.

After that speech, Gibbs said that the Iranian president's remarks were "predictable."

On Sunday, Ahmadinejad said that the U.S. couldn't accomplish anything in the Middle East without Iran on its side, and said sanctions would prove inefficient.

"They themselves know that resolutions do not leave any impact on the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said.

Administration officials say the U.S. and the other permanent members of the Security Council are continuing to make progress on drafting and implementing those sanctions.

One senior administration official said that the U.S. is pursuing sanctions at the U.N. with the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany "urgently," and that pursuit has been constructive.

The official said that preventing a nuclear Iran is a "top priority" for the president, and he takes that threat "seriously."

"Our efforts to build a strong consensus with the international community to isolate Iran, as well as our efforts to strengthen the capacity of our regional partners, reflect that seriousness. We continue to tighten enforcement of U.S. sanctions, and P5+1 discussions continue urgently on a new sanctions resolution, and have been very constructive."