President Barack Obama on Tuesday threatened once again to veto a new Iran sanctions bill if it is passed by Congress.
The comments came during the State of the Union address, which mostly dealt with internal matters but mentioned Iran in the context of American foreign policy.
Obama noted that American diplomacy “has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade,” referring to the interim nuclear deal reached with Iran and which went into effect last week.
“As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium,” he said. “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.”
“These negotiations will be difficult. They may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away. But 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. 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,” said Obama.
He reiterated that “if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.”
“For the sake of our national security, we must 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. 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.”
The speech only mentioned Israel in passing, as the president noted the U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the PA in the context of American foreign policy.
“As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side,” he said.
Mostly, Obama focused in the speech on "a year of action" in terms of the economy.
"That's what most Americans want -- for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations," Obama said.
The President offered what "concrete, practical proposals" for economic growth and enhanced opportunity, according to transcripts quoted by CNN. While some of his ideas will require congressional action, he has vowed to accomplish parts of his agenda without Congress.
“In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action,” he said. “That’s what most Americans want – for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all – the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.”
He pledged to make hiring more people easier for more companies by eliminating complicated loopholes in the tax code.
The money saved with this transition, he said, could be dedicated to reform “to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes – because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.”
Obama pledged to help entrepreneurs and small business owners by promoting new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific.
He called on Congress “to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”
“Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance,” urged Obama. “They need our help, but more important, this country needs them in the game. That’s why I’ve been asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at that new job and new chance to support their families; this week, many will come to the White House to make that commitment real. Tonight, I ask every business leader in America to join us and to do the same – because we are stronger when America fields a full team.”
The speech also referred to the educational system, with Obama promising to “invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children. And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.”
The president also pledged to do more to help Americans save for retirement and announced that on Wednesday he will direct the Treasury to create MyRA, a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings.
Obama praised his Affordable Care Act, noting that more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans and more than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.
“I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice – tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first forty were plenty. We got it. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against,” he said.
He also mentioned gun violence and said, “I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.”
On the defense front, he said, “We have to remain vigilant. But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.”
CNN noted that Obama failed to get any of his top 2013 State of the Union priorities -- a jobs program, gun control and sweeping immigration reform -- through Congress. He went into this year’s speech with only a 43% job-approval rating.
The President hopes to use this State of the Union speech to rebuild his standing enough to force action on some of his priorities, the network noted.