Obama: 'I will veto' new Iran sanctions

President Obama vowed in his State of the Union address Tuesday to veto any Iran sanctions bill Congress sends his way.

“The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible,” the president told lawmakers. “But let me be clear: If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”

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Fifty-nine senators have endorsed bipartisan legislation threatening new sanctions on Iran. Democrats and Republicans in both chambers have criticized the president's interim nuclear deal that went into effect last week for allowing Iran to continue low-level uranium enrichment, and they are weighing legislation that would demand any final deal forbid it.

The author of the Senate bill, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), made no mention of the veto threat in his response to Obama's address, which he lauded for its "clear vision" and "common sense." But his co-author, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to buck the president and allow a vote.

"The American people — Democrats and Republicans alike — overwhelmingly want Iran held accountable during any negotiations," Kirk said in an emailed statement. "The Menendez-Kirk bill is an insurance policy against Iran's development of nuclear weapons and ensures a process for the peaceful dismantlement of Iran's nuclear infrastructure. The Senate should act on the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, now cosponsored by 59 senators."

Obama on Tuesday heralded the interim deal as a victory for diplomacy and a promising first step toward a potentially peaceful outcome to the nuclear standoff that is dominating his second term's foreign policy agenda.

“It is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program — and rolled parts of that program back — for the very first time in a decade,” he said. “As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

The president went on to say that he was “clear-eyed” about Iran. 

“These negotiations will be difficult. They may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away,” he said. “But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.”

He said he stood ready to “exercise all options” to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon if talks fail.

“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,” Obama said. “But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance — and we'll know soon enough — then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.”

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