* Critics say Obama preparing to ease sanctions prematurely
* Obama sees unintended consequences in any military action
* Kerry speaks with Netanyahu, notes Israeli concerns
By Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON, Nov 14 President Barack Obama urged
skeptical U.S. lawmakers on Thursday to hold off on imposing new
sanctions on Iran, saying that if diplomacy fails to curb
Tehran's nuclear program, any punitive measures that are eased
through negotiations could be "ramped back up."
In his most direct appeal yet for more time to pursue a
diplomatic deal with Iran, Obama sought to assuage concerns in
Congress and among U.S. allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia
that his administration is giving away too much in talks between
Tehran and six world powers.
Obama spoke a day after Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary
of State John Kerry and other top U.S. officials warned senators
that implementing new sanctions could scuttle the delicate
negotiations due to resume in Geneva on Nov. 20. Some lawmakers
said after the meetings they were not convinced.
"If we're serious about pursuing diplomacy, then there's no
need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that
are already very effective, and that brought them (the Iranians)
to the table in the first place," Obama told a White House news
"Now, if it turns out they can't deliver, they can't come to
the table in a serious way and get this issue resolved, the
sanctions can be ramped back up ... and we've got that option,"
An initial agreement seemed close last week, when Kerry made
an unexpected trip to the talks in Switzerland. But the
negotiators failed to reach a deal last weekend and are
returning for another round of talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on
Wednesday that a "bad deal" with Iran on its nuclear program
could lead to war. His aides challenged U.S. assertions that
Iran was being offered only limited relief from sanctions.
OBAMA ANSWERS CRITICS
Obama sought to answer critics who accuse the administration
of preparing to ease sanctions prematurely.
He said that in return for Iran's agreement in a
"short-term, phase-one" deal to halt its nuclear advances, "we
would provide very modest relief at the margins of the sanctions
that we've set up."
"But importantly, we would leave in place the core sanctions
that are most effective and have most impact on the Iranian
economy, specifically oil sanctions and sanctions with respect
to banks and financing," he added.
Obama said this would give world powers a chance to test how
serious Tehran is about negotiating a final deal to dispel
Western suspicions that it wants to develop a nuclear weapon,
something Tehran denies it is seeking.
"It also gives us an assurance that if it turns out six
months from now that they're not serious," he said, "we can dial
those sanctions right back up."
Obama reiterated that he was leaving "all options on the
table" for dealing with Iran - diplomatic code for possible
military action. But he warned of "unintended consequences" from
any military conflict.
"No matter how good our military is, military options are
always messy, are always difficult, always have unintended
consequences - and in this situation are never complete in terms
of making us certain that they (the Iranians) don't then go out
and pursue even more vigorously nuclear weapons in the future,"
Senior lawmakers expressed frustration on Wednesday with the
Obama administration's call to delay new sanctions.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed
its version of a new sanctions bill on July 31, just days before
Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, took office. Rouhani was
elected in June on a platform of conciliation, saying he wanted
to ease Iran's international isolation.
Senators have been debating behind closed doors their
version of the bill, which could slash Iran's oil exports to no
more than 500,000 barrels a day and reduce the ability of the
Obama administration to waive sanctions.
Kerry said earlier on Thursday he understands Israel's
concerns over Iran's nuclear program and that the two allies
share the same goal although they differ in tactics.
Kerry told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program that he had just
spoken with Netanyahu by phone before appearing on the
"We're having a very friendly and civil conversation about
this," Kerry said. "I respect completely his deep concerns - as
a prime minister of Israel should have - about the existential
nature of this threat to Israel. We understand that."
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason, Roberta
Rampton, Susan Heavey, Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Will