Obama: Nothing to lose in talking to Iran

President Obama said Thursday there's nothing to lose in talking to Iran, even if it doesn't result in a deal on its nuclear program. 

The president made the remarks as senators are balking at his request to loosen existing sanctions and delay new ones. Lawmakers — and Israel — are worried that Iran is duplicitous and could use current diplomatic talks to make irreversible progress toward building a nuclear weapon.

“We will have lost nothing if at the end of the day it turns out that they are not prepared to provide the international community the hard proof and assurances necessary for us to know that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon," Obama said in a wide-ranging press conference dedicated largely to his administration's healthcare reform law.

“If that turns out to be the case, then not only is our entire sanctions infrastructure still in place, not only are they still losing money from the fact that they can't sell their oil and get revenue from the oil as easily, even throughout these talks, but other options remain,” Obama said. “But what I've said to members of Congress is, if in fact we're serious about trying to resolve this diplomatically ... there's no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective and that brought them to the table in the first place.”

Obama went on to claim credit for the sanctions, a swipe at lawmakers who argue they're the ones who have brought Iran to the table. The Obama administration did get one tough sanctions resolution through the United Nations Security Council during the president's first term, but lawmakers say he repeatedly tried to stymie them as they passed unilateral U.S. sanctions by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate.

“I think it's fair to say that I know a little bit about sanctions since we set them up and made sure we mobilized the entire international community so that there weren't a lot of loopholes,” Obama said. “As a consequence of the sanctions that we put in place — I appreciate all the bipartisan help that we received from Congress in making that happen — Iran's economy has been crippled.”

Obama said the purpose of sanctions “always was to bring the Iranians to the table so we could resolve this issue peacefully.” He said failing to do so could lead to military conflict, which he said would not only carry heavy risks but might actually embolden Iran to pursue nuclear weapons in the future.

“My message to Congress has been, let's see if this short-term, Phase 1 deal can be completed to our satisfaction where we're absolutely certain that while we're talking to the Iranians they're not busy advancing their program,” Obama said. “If it turns out they can't deliver, they can't come to the table in a serious way and get this issue resolved, the sanctions can be ramped back up.”

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill