President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended his approach on Iran and said he would veto any attempt by Congress to impose additional sanctions on that country.
“For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” he said arguing it was American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted Iran’s nuclear programme.
Suspicious of Iran, some US lawmakers have threatened a legislation scaling up sanctions, which, the president has said, will derail the current talks. And he won’t allow it.
“If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it,” the president said, to a standing ovation, one of the many he got that night.
He said he was “clear-eyed” about Iran, its support for terrorists groups, and the mistrust between the two countries. But he said if the US could once negotiate with the Soviet Union -- he cited JF Kennedy and Ronald Reagan -- why could it not engage with “less powerful adversaries today” such as Iran.
If the talks don’t work, the president said he would be the first to seek additional sanctions.
The State of the Union address is a traditional annual event at which the president lays out his agenda for the year -- before a joint session of congress. Looking relaxed and confident, the president began with the economy, which he said was doing fine but “average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled”.
He said he will now go it alone if needed to fix it.
He offered a set of proposals, some of which would require congressional action and, he said, “I’m eager to work with all of you”. “But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
He has used executive action sparingly compared to his predecessors specially Bill Clinton and George W Bush who were way ahead of him at this stage of their respective presidencies.
The president said he wants year 2014 to be a “year of action”.
Social media radar
Obama’s televised address reached 33.5 million viewers last year, according to Nielsen ratings — a huge number, but 36% less than his first address to Congress in 2009. For those tuning in, many also look for a “second screen” experience on a phone or a tablet as they listen to the speech. Elizabeth Breese, a social media analyst said the White House group sent or retweeted more than 1,200 messages during the first hour of Obama’s speech and more than 700 tweets in the hour following.