WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has again called on U.S. lawmakers not to pass legislation imposing new sanctions on Iran.
Speaking at a White House news conference on December 20, Obama said there is "no need" for fresh sanctions legislation while international negotiations are taking place aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear activities.
"Now, if Iran comes back and says we can't give you assurances that we're not going to weaponize, if they're not willing to address some of their capabilities that we know could end up resulting in them having breakout capacity, it's not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back , strengthen sanctions even further," he added. "I'll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. "
Obama said American lawmakers may make political gains by taking a hard line, but he said diplomacy with Iran should be tested.
"I'm not surprised that there's been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions," he said. "I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you're running for office or if you're in office."
Obama was speaking one day after 26 U.S. senators introduced a new bill to impose additional sanctions if the Islamic republic violates the interim nuclear agreement reached with world powers last month, or if no final long-term nuclear deal is reached.
Entitled the "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act," the proposed law would seek to further restrict Iranian oil exports and target Iranian mining, engineering, and construction industries.
The White House has vowed that Obama will veto any new Iran sanctions legislation approved by Congress if negotiations with Tehran are continuing.
At his appearance on December 20, the president said he would support tougher sanctions later if Iran breaches the agreement reached in November in Geneva.
He noted that banking and financial sanctions are still being applied against Iran, even as the negotiations are taking place.
"It is my goal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he said. "But I sure would rather do it diplomatically. I'm keeping all options on the table but if I can do it diplomatically, that's how we should do it. And I would think that would be the preference of everybody up on Capitol Hill because that, for sure, is the preference of the American people."
Iran denies allegations it is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, saying all its atomic activities are for energy generation and peaceful purposes.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned earlier this month that new sanctions targeting Iran could undermine the interim agreement.
Under the November agreement, Iran stands to receive billions of dollars worth of relief from Western economic sanctions. The sanctions are seen as having crippled the Iranian economy, impacting on millions of ordinary Iranians, and forcing the reduction of Iranian oil exports, a key revenue source.
In return for sanctions relief, Iran has agreed to curb some nuclear work, including limiting uranium enrichment to 5 percent purity -- well below the threshold needed to make a nuclear weapon -- and to "neutralize" stockpiles of uranium that have been enriched to 20 percent purity, or close to weapons-grade.
The interim agreement has been given a time frame of six months to allow negotiators to craft a more permanent settlement.