WASHINGTON -- The White House warned Congress on Tuesday that slapping new sanctions on Iran could sink international negotiations to curb Tehran's nuclear program and send America on a "march to war."
In the latest ratcheting up of the administration's effort to stop Congress from adding to existing sanctions, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Americans are in a deeply antiwar mood and implied that voters might turn their anger on lawmakers if a failure of diplomacy leads to military action to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.
"The American people do not want a march to war," Carney told reporters.
"The American people 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," he said, referring to the deal that the U.S. and five other nations have been negotiating with Iran. "The alternative is military action."
The administration has been lobbying against new sanctions on Iran since last summer, contending they could drive Tehran from the negotiating table or splinter the international coalition that has been cooperating on sanctions, which are designed to convince Tehran it should to accept limits on its nuclear program. New economic penalties, on top of years of earlier sanctions, could also strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who want to see the collapse of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's diplomatic initiative, officials warn.
Many nations fear Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, despite its contention that it is seeking peaceful applications of nuclear energy.
Diplomats from the U.S., France, China, Russia, Germany and Britain said they had been unable to seal a preliminary deal with Iran during weekend talks in Geneva aimed at launching comprehensive negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program. They said lower-level officials would return to Geneva on Nov. 20 to resume efforts to end the diplomatic stalemate.
Many U.S. lawmakers of both parties have spurned the administration's appeals. Some members of Congress believe that the two rounds of international negotiations since mid-October have shown the administration is ready to accept too lenient a deal, and they want to sharply step up pressure on Iran.
The administration intensified its lobbying effort this week. Vice President Joe Biden called Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Secretary of State John F. Kerry plans to meet in closed session Wednesday with members of the Senate Banking Committee, which is weighing legislation that would mirror sanctions approved by the House in August.
Kerry will ask for a "temporary pause" in sanctions to make sure that "our legislative strategy and our negotiating strategy are running hand in hand," Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said Tuesday.
Suzanne Maloney, an Iran specialist at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, said the White House warning about antiwar sentiment is effective. But the alternative to diplomacy "is not war, it's lousier diplomatic options," she tweeted.