Obama: Let Iran Talks Proceed With a ‘Confident America’

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening at the Capitol in Washington. He said a "strong and confident America" could negotiate successfully with Iran.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman
Jan. 29, 2014, 3:40 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama, in his Tues­day even­ing State of the Uni­on ad­dress, im­plored Con­gress to al­low Ir­an nuc­le­ar talks to pro­ceed with “a strong and con­fid­ent Amer­ica.”

“These ne­go­ti­ations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on veri­fi­able ac­tion that con­vinces us and the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity that Ir­an is not build­ing a nuc­le­ar bomb,” he told the joint ses­sion of law­makers. “If John F. Kennedy and Ron­ald Re­agan could ne­go­ti­ate with the So­viet Uni­on, then surely a strong and con­fid­ent Amer­ica can ne­go­ti­ate with less power­ful ad­versar­ies today.”

Obama and Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id (D-Nev.) have stared down a ma­jor­ity of law­makers — in­clud­ing many from their own party — who have urged pas­sage of a new bill that would height­en eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against Ir­an if dip­lo­mat­ic pro­gress is not made to­ward a long-term deal that sub­stan­tially re­duces Tehran’s ca­pa­city to build a nuc­le­ar weapon. However, Obama has ar­gued that fresh sanc­tions would squelch any po­ten­tial of turn­ing back Ir­an’s atom­ic pro­gram, and Re­id has not al­lowed the le­gis­la­tion to come to a floor vote.

The United States and five oth­er world powers — China, France, Ger­many, Rus­sia and the United King­dom — in Novem­ber inked an in­ter­im agree­ment with Tehran un­der which the Middle East­ern state agrees to a set of re­stric­tions on its atom­ic-en­ergy pro­jects in ex­change for some sanc­tions re­lief. Ir­an con­tin­ues to main­tain that its nuc­le­ar am­bi­tions re­main peace­ful, and has in­sisted it re­tains a right to con­tin­ue urani­um en­rich­ment and oth­er atom­ic activ­it­ies for civil en­ergy pro­duc­tion, med­ic­al needs and re­search.

The pres­id­ent — tout­ing the strength of a policy of “dip­lomacy backed by pres­sure” — in the Tues­day speech said the im­pos­i­tion of sanc­tions had brought Ir­an to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table. But he re­peated his threat to veto any sanc­tions le­gis­la­tion that Con­gress may pass dur­ing a six-month peri­od that runs through June, dur­ing which the in­ter­im deal is in place and talks for a per­man­ent ac­cord are on­go­ing.

“As we gath­er here to­night, Ir­an has be­gun to elim­in­ate its stock­pile of high­er levels of en­riched urani­um,” Obama said in the just-over-one-hour­long speech de­voted mainly to do­mest­ic is­sues. “It is not in­stalling ad­vanced cent­ri­fuges. Un­pre­ced­en­ted in­spec­tions help the world veri­fy, every day, that Ir­an is not build­ing a bomb. And with our al­lies and part­ners, we’re en­gaged in ne­go­ti­ations to see if we can peace­fully achieve a goal we all share: pre­vent­ing Ir­an from ob­tain­ing a nuc­le­ar weapon.”

He said the talks “will be dif­fi­cult” and “may not suc­ceed,” not­ing that U.S. dip­lo­mats are “clear-eyed about Ir­an’s sup­port for ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions like Hezbol­lah, which threaten our al­lies.”

“The mis­trust between our na­tions can­not be wished away,” Obama said.

However, not­ing that the talks do not rely on “trust” for suc­cess, he asked law­makers to “give dip­lomacy a chance to suc­ceed.”

“If Ir­an’s lead­ers do not seize this op­por­tun­ity, then I will be the first to call for more sanc­tions, and stand ready to ex­er­cise all op­tions to make sure Ir­an does not build a nuc­le­ar weapon,” Obama said. “But if Ir­an’s lead­ers do seize the chance, then Ir­an could take an im­port­ant step to re­join the com­munity of na­tions, and we will have re­solved one of the lead­ing se­cur­ity chal­lenges of our time without the risks of war.”

Rep­res­ent­at­ive Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who de­livered the 10-minute Re­pub­lic­an re­sponse to the State of the Uni­on speech, did not ad­dress the is­sue of the Ir­an ne­go­ti­ations in her re­marks.

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