, WASHINGTON, Nov 13 – The White House warned US lawmakers Tuesday that tightening sanctions on Iran could box America into a “march to war” and derail a diplomatic push to limit Tehran’s atomic program.
The warning marked a significant toughening of President Barack Obama’s stance towards Congress as he prepares to resume high stakes nuclear diplomacy with Iran later this month.
“The American people do not want a march to war,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
Obama has vowed he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, but last week intense negotiations in Geneva between Iran and six world powers failed to reach an interim deal to halt its program.
Fresh from the talks, Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to make the case for continued diplomacy.
Key senators from both parties, some responding to Israel’s denunciation 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 warned that new sanctions could scupper the diplomatic process and leave little option but the use of military force against Tehran’s nuclear program.
Carney said Americans “justifiably and understandably prefer a peaceful solution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and this agreement, if it’s achieved, has the potential to do that.”
“The alternative is military action,” Carney said.
“It is important to understand that if pursuing a resolution diplomatically is disallowed or ruled out, what options then do we and our allies have to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?”
Republican Senator Mark Kirk, however, argued that sanctions remained the best way to avoid war and ensure Iran did not get nuclear weapons.
“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 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.
Officials have also warned further action at this stage by Congress would strengthen hardliners in Iran opposed to dialogue between new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s envoys and Washington.
Tehran denies Western claims it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.
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.