Obama administration is reported to be pressing key members of the U.S. Congress
to allow more time before taking final action on legislation that would impose
tough, unilateral sanctions on Iran. The president says he believes there can be
success within weeks, rather than months, in building a tough sanctions
resolution in the U.N. Security Council.
In discussing sanctions, President Barack Obama and administration officials
have voiced optimism about achieving an agreement at the U.N. in response to
Iran's ongoing uranium enrichment program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful
purposes rather than for nuclear weapons.
In a joint White House news conference last month with French President Nicolas
Sarkozy, Mr. Obama said the door remains open to Iran, which he said understands
what the terms of a diplomatic solution would be.
But the president made clear that the United States is seeking broad support for
a new U.N. resolution, while acknowledging that complete agreement on the issue
did not yet exist.
"Do we have unanimity in the international community? Not yet," said President
Obama. "That is something we have to work on. We think that we are in a much
stronger position to get robust sanctions now than we were a year ago, prior to
us initiating our strategy."
The United States has been working to obtain crucial support from China and
Russia for a Security Council resolution. Beijing and Moscow have veto power in
But efforts at the United Nations come amid increased concern in the U.S.
Congress that Iran might be speeding up efforts to develop a nuclear weapons
Later this month, House of Representatives and Senate conferees are expected to
consider versions of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act that both chambers
have approved. The measure would penalize foreign companies that help Iran
import gasoline and other refined petroleum products by denying them access to
Appearing this week on NBC television's Meet the Press program, Independent
Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman called for quick action, describing new
sanctions as a "last chance" for Iran.
The Hill newspaper quoted unidentified sources as saying the White House has
quietly asked lawmakers not to move quickly to produce a single sanctions bill
that would go to the president, who could sign or veto it.
Bruce MacDonald with the United States Institute of Peace says a delay would
help by not tying the administration's hands when it comes to negotiating with
"Having worked in Congress for a long time, I fully recognize that Congress
should maintain all its prerogatives," said Bruce MacDonald. "But I would hope
that they might give the Obama administration a little bit more of a chance,
especially now when it looks like there is some movement on the part of China
MacDonald says reaching an agreement at the United Nations to achieve President
Obama's timeline will not be easy, but it should not be ruled out. Where China
is concerned, he points to indications from Beijing that it recognizes that
something other than simply pure diplomacy might be needed with Iran.
Iran has dismissed the threat of tougher sanctions, saying that any such step
would only strengthen its determination to move ahead with its nuclear program,
a remark Iran's chief nuclear negotiator made during a visit to Beijing.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has avoided characterizing
congressional contacts as an effort to slow down an Iran sanctions bill.
Briefing reporters on Monday, Gibbs said only that this is a "critical time
period" with U.S. allies at the United Nations. He reiterated the president's
belief that a sanctions resolution would be acted on by the Security Council in
the next few months.