Washington (AFP) – Secretary of State John Kerry faces a potentially hostile reception Wednesday when he urges skeptical U.S. lawmakers not to proceed with proposed new sanctions aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear drive.
Senate Republicans and Democrats who are convinced that tighter sanctions against Tehran could bring about a long-sought resolution to its disputed atomic program bristled when the White House warned Tuesday that such action could trigger a “march to war.”
The administration’s remarks Tuesday marked a significant toughening of President Barack Obama’s stance towards Congress on sanctions as Washington prepares to resume high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with Iran later this month.
Obama has vowed he will not allow Tehran’s leaders to develop an atomic weapon. But last week’s Geneva negotiations between Iran and six world powers failed to reach an interim deal to halt its program.
Key senators from both U.S. parties, some responding to Israel’s savaging of the proposed agreement, are proposing stiffer sanctions or may curtail Obama’s power to ease current measures, which have crippled the Iranian economy.
But the White House said any new sanctions could scupper the diplomatic process and leave little option but the use of military force against Iran.
“The American people do not want a march to war,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, saying U.S. citizens “justifiably and understandably prefer a peaceful solution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
“This agreement, if it’s achieved, has the potential to do that. The alternative is military action,” Carney added.
The White House believes in offering Iran some “modest” and “reversible” steps to ease the pain of some sanctions as part of an interim deal to bolster Tehran’s negotiators against hardliners who are skeptical of new President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic opening.
Republican Senator Mark Kirk maintained that sanctions are the best way to avoid war.
“The American people should not be forced to choose between military action and a bad deal that accepts a nuclear Iran,” he said.
White House aides, however, privately say that once war-weary Americans understand the alternative to a deal with Iran means another Middle East conflict, they will warm to Obama’s approach.
Tehran denies Western claims it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.
Fresh from the Geneva talks, Kerry will take the administration’s position directly to the Senate Banking Committee, which is mulling a new sanctions package.
“The secretary will be clear that putting new sanctions in place would be a mistake,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.