WASHINGTON -- President Obama warned lawmakers in his State of the Union address on Tuesday against interfering with his administration's nuclear negotiations with Iran, promising to veto any new sanctions legislation that makes it to his desk.
“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,” Obama said. “It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”
The warnings come as the newly-minted GOP majority rallies support for new Iran legislation. Among the proposals are a measure that would threaten new sanctions against Tehran should negotiators fail to reach a nuclear agreement, and a separate measure that would guarantee Congress an up-or-down vote on any deal that’s struck.
But Obama also said he was not overly optimistic that a deal would be reached.
“There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran,” he said.
The administration has made it clear that it disapproves of Congress’ attempts to legislate its way to the negotiating table. Obama's veto threat Tuesday night was not the first warning the White House has issued to zealous lawmakers, who have assembled a growing bipartisan caucus committed to maneuvering a congressional role in the nuclear discussions.
Thus far, the White House has balked at Congress' efforts, threatening to override any legislation that attempts to impact the talks. Since the nuclear deal would not be considered a treaty, administration officials have consistently fought the notion that the deal requires congressional approval.
Tensions appear to have started spilling over, most notably between the Obama White House and Democrats on the Hill. When Obama addressed the delegation at Senate Democrats' recent retreat in Baltimore, Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) reportedly traded heated words with the commander-in-chief on the subject of Iran negotiations.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) who is sponsoring new sanctions legislation along with Menendez, wasn't hearing any of Obama's veto talk. In a statement issued late Tuesday, the Republican said he expects his bipartisan legislation -- which was resubmitted in the new Congress and sent to the Senate Banking Committee -- to move forward quickly.
"In the next few weeks, I believe we will pass the bipartisan Kirk-Menendez bill to give our children an insurance policy against a nuclear war in the Middle East,” Kirk said in a statement.
An Iran nuclear deal has emerged as one of the few potential foreign policy successes the Obama administration could solidify before leaving office, particularly as it falters in its efforts to target the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, struggles to tie up the war in Afghanistan and watches as its touted counterterror successes in countries such as Yemen and Libya threaten to go off the rails.
Talks between Iran and the P5+1 negotiating group resumed this week in Geneva.
This story has been updated to include comment from Sen. Mark Kirk.