President Barack Obama Thursday defended offering Iran "modest" relief on sanctions in exchange for progress on nuclear talks and urged Congress to hold off on imposing more economic penalties.
"We can dial those sanctions right back up" if Iran doesn't live up to an agreement, Obama said yesterday at a White House news conference. "If we're serious about pursuing diplomacy, then there's no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective and that brought them to the table in the first place."
Obama spoke amid criticism from lawmakers and objections by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a potential deal between world powers and Iran in Geneva talks scheduled to resume next week.
Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials are lobbying lawmakers to pause in acting on legislation adding to sanctions.
Kerry and other diplomats said in Geneva last week that they were close to an agreement that would grant Iran limited sanctions relief in return for curtailing key nuclear activities. The goal is a first-step accord that would keep Iran from getting closer to a nuclear weapons capability during subsequent talks toward a comprehensive agreement to guarantee that Iran's activities are exclusively peaceful.
In Vienna, United Nations nuclear monitors reported Thursday that Iran has halted the expansion of disputed operations. Iran stopped installing machinery to boost production capability at its uranium-enrichment facility even as the stockpile of its most sensitive nuclear material grew to a record, according to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran also slowed construction of a heavy-water reactor.
Obama said an attempt to resolve the Iranian nuclear issues through negotiations is better than the alternative of military actions, which he said are "always difficult, always have unintended consequences."