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US President Barack Obama delivered a strong message to critics of the nuclear agreement with Tehran during his State of the Union (SOTU) address late on Tuesday, vowing to veto any new Iran sanctions bill.
“Let me be clear … if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it,” Obama said during his fifth SOTU speech, marking the first time that he has publicly referenced the use of the veto measure to safeguard the deal reached between Iran and the UN Security Council permanent members (and Germany) last November.
“For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” the US president said, reiterating a position he has strongly advocated over the past three months.
But he also repeated a warning he has since made to Iran’s leaders that they should not miss the chance to “seize this opportunity”.
Obama’s Iran position comes after bipartisan efforts in Congress to threaten more punitive sanctions if Iran does not abide by the November agreement appeared to gain momentum.
On the eve of Obama’s SOTU address, one more senator backed the legislation, bringing to 59 the number of senators that believe a new sanctions bill is necessary.
If the bloc supporting new Iran sanctions are able to get more than 67 senators in total, they have the legal application to override the President’s veto.
The underlying theme of the sanctions legislation is that Obama’s foreign policy on Iran is misplaced because – as some have pointed out, namely Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – Tehran cannot be trusted to play a role as a regional security partner.
Netanyahu has previously called the agreement a “historic mistake”.
One of Obama’s fiercest foreign policy critics, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), has previously said that the agreement could be a “dangerous step that degrades our pressure on the Iranian regime” and cited North Korea as an example of a failed policy.
Further exacerbating the criticism is the fact that the Obama administration has not yet publicly disclosed the contents of the Iran nuclear deal, as demanded by the president’s detractors.
Florida Republican Senator Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has repeatedly called on the president to release the full text of the agreement to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment programme.
She has alleged that the Obama administration is hiding the document in a secret location.
On January 20, Tehran agreed with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (collectively known as the P5 + 1) to destroy its stockpile of enriched uranium and some of the equipment used in the enrichment process.
Obama appears to have centred his foreign policy legacy on the agreement, which he says should through diplomatic means produce a comprehensive deal with Iran to finally terminate any suspicions Iran is weaponising its nuclear energy programme.
“This is the most tangible progress we have reached with Iran since I took office,” Obama has previously said.