President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, appearing at a joint news conference Friday, both said the enactment of new financial penalties on Iran could unravel more than a year of high-level diplomacy and rekindle fears of a Western military confrontation with Tehran’s Islamist government.
U.S. lawmakers, both Republican and Democratic, have been drafting new legislation to impose a new round of sanctions on Tehran if an agreement isn’t reached by a July diplomatic deadline.
Iranian diplomats have said they would pull out of the talks if the U.S. imposes any new sanctions on their country.
“I am asking Congress to hold off because our negotiators, our partners, those are most intimately involved in this assess that it will jeopardize the possibility of providing a diplomatic solution,” Mr. Obama said. “I will veto a bill that comes to my desk.”
Mr. Cameron said he had personally lobbied top U.S. senators on Friday against imposing new sanctions, a rare public admission by a foreign leader that raised eyebrows in Washington. “Yes, I have contacted a couple of senators this morning and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon,” he said, adding that the contacts weren’t intended to have the British prime minister tell the U.S. Senate what to do. “That wouldn’t be right,” Mr. Cameron said.
Instead, it was to express the view of a key American ally that “we should not impose further sanctions now,” Mr. Cameron said. “That would be counterproductive, and it could put at risk the valuable international unity that has been so crucial to our approach.”
Among those Mr. Cameron met with was Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), the newly installed chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who favors a sanctions bill. Mr. Corker called it a “good conversation.”
President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron also vowed to take on “the poisonous ideology” of Islamic extremists and said intelligence agencies must be allowed to track militants online despite privacy concerns.
Obama and Cameron held two days of White House talks amid increasing concern in Europe about the threat posed by extremists after 17 people were killed in Paris attacks and Belgian authorities engaged in a firefight with terror suspects.
“We face a poisonous and fanatical ideology that wants to pervert one of the world’s major religions, Islam, and create conflict, terror and death. With our allies, we will confront it wherever it appears,” Cameron told a joint White House news conference with Obama after their talks.
Obama said he and Cameron accepted that intelligence and military force alone would not solve the problem, and they would work together on “strategies to counter violent extremism that radicalizes recruits and mobilizes people, especially young people, to engage in terrorism.”
The extremists’ ability to communicate online and spread recruitment propaganda on the Internet have presented a challenge to authorities.
Obama and Cameron expressed concerns about new encryption products that could prevent governments from tracking extremists poised to attack.
Technology companies became alarmed with surveillance techniques after former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified details about how the government harvests data from companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AT&T and Verizon.
“We’re not asking for back doors” to access electronic communications, Cameron said. “We believe in very clear front doors through legal processes that should help to keep our country safe.”
Obama said debate from civil libertarians and privacy groups has been “useful” in the debate, but said legal safeguards are in place to prevent government from “Big Brother” scenarios.
Obama said the U.S. government has been working with technology companies to deal with privacy concerns without preventing investigations.
“Social media and the Internet is the primary way in which these terrorist organizations are communicating,” Obama said.
“We’re still going to have to find ways to make sure that if an Al Qaeda affiliate is operating in Great Britain or in the United States, that we can try to prevent real tragedy,” he said.
Obama and Cameron also agreed to conduct cybersecurity war games and establish a joint “cyber cell” to prepare for and share intelligence on malicious hacking, weeks after Sony Entertainment was hacked in an incident the FBI has blamed on North Korea.