President Barack Obama has asked the U.S. Congress to refrain from imposing fresh sanctions against Iran while negotiations on a permanent nuclear deal are underway.
Obama said he will veto a bill on more sanctions against Iran if it comes to his desk while negotiations are continuing between Tehran and six world powers.
But Obama said if Iran ultimately refuses to “say yes” and provide assurance that they are not secretly developing nuclear weapons, he would go to the U.S. Congress and ask them to “tighten the screws.”
Speaking at a joint press conference at the White House with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama said there is probably less than a 50 percent chance of a diplomatic deal with Iran.
But he said the likelihood of talks with Iran collapsing would be high if Congress passes a bill for more sanctions against Tehran.
Cameron said there is a prospect of success in talks with Iran, and that he has contacted U.S. senators about the issue.
The remarks by Obama and Cameron came a day after Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani threatened that Tehran would respond to new economic sanctions by taking steps to increase uranium enrichment levels by up to 60 percent -- a move that would bring Iran even closer to a nuclear weapons capability.
While Obama and Cameron were meeting in Washington on January 16, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended a one-hour meeting in Paris with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
It was their third meeting together about negotiations for a permanent nuclear deal in the past two days.
On January 14, Kerry and Zarif met for more than five hours in Geneva before breaking for 90 minutes and then returning for a surprise second meeting.
In Geneva on January 16, delegates from the United States and Iran continued bilateral talks about an upcoming round of nuclear negotiations that will include all six countries in the so-called 5+1 group -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France plus Germany.
Those broader negotiations are scheduled to begin in Geneva on January 18.
RFE/RL’s Radio Farda quotes an Iranian negotiator in Geneva saying on January 15 that he is “very hopeful” a political agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program can be reached with global powers before March 1.
After missing a deadline for a deal last year, the parties set a new deadline of March 1 to reach a framework agreement and June 30 to reach a permanent nuclear deal.
A permanent deal would limit Tehran's nuclear enrichment activities and allow verification teams to ensure Iran is not secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.
In exchange, Tehran wants crippling economic sanctions against Iran to be lifted.
Iran insists that its nuclear power program is only for peaceful civilian purposes such as power generation and medical research.