Additional sanctions recommended by lawmakers frustrated by the second consecutive delay in nuclear talks with Iran would be "counterproductive," the White House insisted Monday.
"The concern that we have is that layering on additional sanctions could leave some of our partners with the impression that this sanctions regime is more punitive in nature than anything else, and that could cause some cracks in that international coordination to appear," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. "And that would therefore undermine the point of the sanctions regime in the first place."
Earnest added that allies would believe that the U.S. was simply "more interested in punishing" Iran than striking a deal, and that the administration could lose "buy-in" on the talks with additional penalties.
Some Republican lawmakers called on Congress to pass new sanctions after negotiators in Geneva failed to strike a deal. Under the extension, announced Monday, Iran will receive $5 billion in sanctions relief as negotiations continue. The deal says negotiators should complete a framework agreement by March 1, with a final agreement four months after that.
“The Obama administration should realize that the Iranians are not serious about these talks and should abandon the negotiations and with the Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, it’s time that we roll up our sleeves and get to work to pass new sanctions on the Iranian regime," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) on Monday.
Earnest acknowledged there were "substantial gaps that remain" between world powers and Tehran, but said the White House did "believe that enough progress has been made toward giving the Iranian regime more time to answer the international community's concerns about their nuclear program."
He also said the White House was "less concerned than we have been in the past" about the prospects of Iran secretly advancing its nuclear program during the talks because international inspectors had gained "much greater access to the Iranian nuclear program than they have in the past" through the negotiations.
But the press secretary stopped short of issuing an explicit veto threat — while indicating it was a possibility.
"Our position on putting in place sanctions in the midst of these ongoing negotiations has not changed," he said.