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January 20, 2015 10:57 pm

Obama Pledges to Veto Iran Sanctions Bill in State of the Union Address

avatar by Ben Cohen

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"I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress" with Iran, President Obama said in his 2015 State of the Union address. Photo: Twitter

President Barack Obama confirmed that he would veto any sanctions bill against Iran, saying that passing such a measure would “all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.”

In a State of the Union speech dominated by domestic concerns and the imperatives of his social justice agenda, Obama sounded buoyant, announcing that “the shadow of crisis has passed and the union is strong.” That passion and sense of mission was contrastingly absent from his remarks on foreign policy, which devoted only a single sentence to fundamental human rights, and which pointedly underlined the President’s refusal to identify radical Islam as a political and security threat to the world’s democracies. Instead, in a dig at the previous George W. Bush Administration, Obama spoke of America leading “not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.”

“When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military — then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world. That’s what our enemies want us to do,” Obama said.

Given the President’s emphasis on diplomacy and multilateralism, and his anxiety over “getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East” in the struggle to defeat the Islamic State terrorist organization, his comments on Iran were certainly not unexpected.

“Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material,” the President said. “Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies — including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict. There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran. But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.”

Significantly, the President did not mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Other than Iran, specific foreign policy issues discussed included Islamic State (“we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group,”) global terrorist networks (“We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies,”) Ukraine (“We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies,”) Cuba (“our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,”) and global warming (“14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.”)

The President also restated his longstanding commitment to close Guantanamo Bay. “As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice — so it makes no sense to spend three million dollars per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit,” he said. “Since I’ve been President, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of GTMO in half. Now it’s time to finish the job. And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It’s not who we are.”

In a section of his speech dedicated to American values in international policy, Obama was applauded as he condemned “the deplorable antisemitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.” The President also made clear his rejection of “offensive stereotypes of Muslims — the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace.”

In a briefing note issued in tandem with the State of the Union Address, Washington, DC-based advocacy organzation The Israel Project took issue with Obama’s remarks on Iran. “The Iranian program has not been halted,” the briefing note asserted. “The Iranians have spent the last year exploiting loopholes in the interim deal to make advances across all three of their nuclear weapons’ program core areas: their uranium track to a bomb, their plutonium track to a bomb, and their ballistic missile program.”

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