TEHRAN – U.S. President Barack Obama faced mounting bipartisan pressure on Friday to drop his resistance to an Iran sanctions bill after Tehran announced that it is building a new generation of centrifuges to enrich uranium, Fox News reported.
One of the president's top Democratic allies is leading the charge for Congress to pass sanctions legislation, despite the president's pleas to stand down. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told Fox News that the "Iranians are showing their true intentions" with their latest announcement.
"If you're talking about producing more advanced centrifuges that are only used to enrich uranium at a quicker rate... the only purposes of that and the only reason you won't give us access to [a military research facility] is because you're really not thinking about nuclear power for domestic energy -- you're thinking about nuclear power for nuclear weapons," he claimed.
Menendez was reacting after Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said late on Thursday that the country is building a new generation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment. He said the system still needs further tests before the centrifuges can be mass produced.
Iran, as part of a six-month nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers, agreed not to bring new centrifuges into operation during that period. But the deal does not stop it from developing centrifuges that are still in the testing phase.
On Friday, the Embassy of Israel in Washington released a statement reiterating their call for Iran to halt enrichment and remove the infrastructure behind it.
Menendez said he, like the president, wants to test the opportunity for diplomacy.
"The difference is that we want to be ready should that diplomacy not succeed," the senator said. "It's getting Congress showing a strong hand with Iranians at the same time that the administration is seeking negotiation with them. I think that that's the best of all worlds."
Obama would not appear to agree.
At his year-end news conference, the president tried to push back on those advocating new legislation by insisting the tentative deal with Iran has teeth.
"Precisely because there are verification provisions in place, we will have more insight into Iran's nuclear program over the next six months than we have previously," Obama said. "We'll know if they are violating the terms of the agreement. They're not allowed to accelerate their stockpile of enriched uranium."
Obama argues that Congress could step in at any time to approve new sanctions if Iran violates the terms of the agreement. Further, he argues that legislation at this stage could imperil the hard-fought Geneva deal.
But sponsors of the legislation in the Senate, which would only trigger sanctions if Iran violates the interim deal or lets it expire without a long-term accord, say the legislation would do just the opposite -- put added pressure on Iran to rein in its nuclear program.
A total of 47 co-sponsors are now behind the legislation introduced by Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. Supporters are hoping to reach a 67-member, veto-proof majority.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday that all parties will be resuming negotiations after the holidays. She added, "It's important to remember what's at stake if Iran does not choose the path this diplomatic process lays out for them.”
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