WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said in his State of the Union address that he will veto any new Iran sanctions.
“There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran,” Obama said in prepared remarks posted online by the White House just minutes before the speech, a first.
“But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”
The veto pledge earned Obama applause from the Democratic side of the room.
Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) are set to introduce new sanctions that would trigger should Iran walk away from talks underway between Iran and the major powers aimed at swapping sanctions relief for guarantees that Iran will not advance toward a nuclear weapon.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee strongly backs the bill, although it has yet to be formally introduced in part because of resistance from some Democratic senators.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement after the speech that Obama posed a “false choice” between sanctions and talks.
“One thing that could change Tehran’s resistance to accepting a meaningful and effective agreement to keep it from developing a nuclear weapons capability is the threat of more economic pressure,” Royce said. “Economic pressure is the only reason the Iranian regime is at the table. Instead of ruling out what has worked, the president should work with Congress to increase the negotiating pressure on Iran.”
At least one leading Democrat agreed with that outlook. Rep Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the House Middle East subcommittee, said in a statement that he rejected “the premise that negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program would be derailed by Congress passing carefully crafted sanctions that only take effect if the regime fails to live up to its international obligations.
“After all,” Deutch said, “it was sanctions that drove Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.”
Obama cast his pledge to veto new sanctions as part of an overall theme in his speech of emphasizing diplomacy as a means equal to force in maintaining U.S. influence.
“The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom,” he said. Obama cited the fight against anti-Semitism in describing what he said was a “pillar” of his foreign policy, respecting human dignity.
“As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained,” he said. “It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims — the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace.”
Obama, reiterating his plans to end years of U.S. policies isolating Cuba, also welcomed one of his guests to the speech, Alan Gross, the Jewish-American contractor freed Dec. 17 after being jailed in Cuba for five years for his attempts to hook up its small Jewish community to the Internet.
“After years in prison, we’re overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs,” Obama said. “Welcome home, Alan.”
Gross and his wife, Judy, rose to receive a standing ovation from both Democrats and Republicans.