Obama threatens to veto new Iran sanctions from Congress

New sanctions against Iran could derail progress toward a comprehensive nuclear deal and heighten the chances of war, President Obama warned Friday.

“Additional sanctions on Iran at this time would undermine international unity and set back our chances for a diplomatic solution,” the president said at a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

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Obama added that he would veto any such legislation.

The statement came a day after reports that Obama engaged in a heated exchange with Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezIn judge's 2010 Senate trial, Menendez was guilty of hypocrisy Excused Menendez juror: 'I don't think he did anything wrong' We don't need a terrorist attack to know diversity program has to go MORE (D-N.J.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member, over his legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if the nuclear talks failed.

Menendez questioned Obama’s negotiating strategy with Iran during the closed-door retreat for Senate Democrats attended by the president.

Obama said that he told lawmakers that there is no pressing reason to pass additional sanctions legislation, and that the move would risk frightening Iran and alienating world allies. 

“I'm asking Congress to hold off because our negotiators, our partners, those most intimately involved in this assess that it would jeopardize” the chances of a deal, Obama said. “There is no good argument for us to try to undercut, undermine the negotiations until they've played themselves out.”

Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are expected to introduce legislation in the coming days that would threaten new, deeper sanctions if Iran walked away from the negotiating table without a deal before the June deadline.

But Obama said the move would be interpreted badly by Iran, as well as allies supporting the negotiations, and that the “likelihood of the entire negotiations collapsing is very high.”

If that happened, Obama said, “the risk and likelihood that” military action would be necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon would increase.

“Congress will have to own that as well,” Obama said.

Moreover, Obama said, the U.S. would be blamed for the collapse and current partners who support the existing sanctions regime could pull out, because buying Iranian oil would be in their economic benefit. The president noted that Russia and China were among those who so far had backed the efforts.

Obama also argued that the temporary deal — which has eased sanctions in exchange for a freeze on the development of Iran's nuclear program —  has paid dividends.

“We have not lost ground,” he said. “Iran has not accelerated its program during the time these negotiations have taken place.”

Cameron echoed Obama, and said that he had expressed those concerns directly to U.S. members of Congress. He argued the world needed to “create the space for negotiations to succeed.”

Additional sanctions, Cameron argued, “would be counterproductive and put at risk the valuable international unity.”

In addition to Iran, Cameron and Obama pledged new joint counterterrorism efforts in the wake of last week’s attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris.

Obama vowed that the U.S. and U.K. would do “everything in our power to help France seek the justice that is needed,” and said the nations were working together to disrupt terror networks and prevent future attacks.

“We continue to stand unequivocally not only with our French friends and allies, but with also all of our partners who are dealing with this scourge,” Obama said.

The president said the countries were paying particular attention to the threat posed by domestic terrorists who had been recruited and trained by global networks like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“One of the things that we spoke about is how do we lift up those voices that represent the vast majority of the Muslim world, so that that counter-narrative against this nihilism is put out there as aggressively and as nimbly as the messages coming out from these fanatics,” Obama said.

The White House also announced a series of new steps the U.S. and U.K. were taking to address cybersecurity threats. The countries will participate in cyber war games in the coming year, including a stress test of banks and investment firms.

The countries are also establishing joint teams between MI5, the NSA, and FBI to help defend against cyber attacks, and agreed to fund a new Fulbright scholarship for students studying cybersecurity issues.

“We know what we’re up against and we know how we will win,” Cameron said.

The two leaders also joked about their close personal connection. Cameron has looked to project close ties with Obama ahead of elections later this year, telling a British newspaper earlier this month that they talk regularly and that Obama even calls him “bro.”

Obama made an effort to bolster Cameron, saying the two “must be doing something right” on the economy and jokingly acknowledging the prime minister's comments to the press.

“Some explored the linguistic origins of the word ‘bro.’ Others debated its definition. Several analyzed how this term has evolved over time. Some seemed confused and — and asked, 'What does Obama mean?’” Obama said. “So let me put this speculation to rest. Put simply, David is a great friend.”