One of the only pieces of foreign policy news to come out of President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night was his vow to veto any congressional legislation imposing further sanctions on Iran.
International delegates currently are negotiating a six-month deal with the Islamic republic that would trade limited reductions in economic and trade sanctions for proof that Iran has ceased high levels of nuclear enrichment. True to form, conservative members of Congress lashed out at the promise, citing their continued suspicion of Iran and questioning whether any Western power can be absolutely sure Tehran has quit attempts to create a nuclear weapon.
Tea party frontman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, perhaps predictably called the president's plan for Iran "one of the most dangerous things in the entire speech."
""What I fear is that we're making the mistakes of the past — the same mistakes the Clinton administration made with North Korea," he said, according to Roll Call. "With North Korea, we relaxed the sanctions in exchange for amorphous promises, and the billions that North Korea received in relaxed sanctions, they used to develop nuclear weapons."
Cruz cited Iran's anti-Israel rhetoric, and claimed a nuclear Iran could possibly lead to a nuclear detonation over Tel Aviv, New York or Los Angeles.
"The results could be hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost," he said.
Iran first expressed willingness to discuss its nuclear program before the September U.N. General Assembly, when new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani adopted a different tone than that of his predecessor. In the days leading up to the meeting in New York, Rouhani offered good will messages to Jews and promises to release political prisoners. A tentative agreement brokered through P5+1 nations would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor Iran's nuclear program, and ensure it is not enriching at a level that could be weaponized.
The White House and State Department have claimed that the lifting of sanctions could be immediately reversed at the first sign Iran has not kept its promises. Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress in December that the U.S. could target Iran's nuclear sites, saying, "We could not only terminate those facilities, but we could set them back a significant amount of time."
Obama Tuesday night credited the tentative agreement to "American diplomacy, backed by pressure."
"As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb," he said.
The president added the U.S. is "clear-eyed" about Iran's overt support for organizations such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant political party that the U.S. has classified as a terrorist group. But he asked Congress to offer some level of trust as negotiations continue.
"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 said.
"But let me be clear: If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it," he added. "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."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday the deal with Iran – which he considers a "historic mistake" – had been delayed six weeks, according to Reuters. He claims Iran is using the hiatus to hone its technologies to produce long-range bombs.