WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama says Iran should seize a "door of opportunity" to achieve a final comprehensive nuclear deal with the international community, and he has appealed again to lawmakers not to pass legislation imposing new sanctions.
Obama spoke after talks with the visiting Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy Brey, covering bilateral and European economic issues, as well as a range of foreign policy and security matters.
Obama's message to Congress has been that new sanctions now would jeopardize chances for a peaceful resolution with Iran of international concerns about its nuclear program.
On Monday he said the interim Joint Plan of Action allows "time and space" to negotiate a comprehensive deal, and he said lawmakers should give the process "a chance."
"My preference is for peace and diplomacy and this is one of the reasons why I have sent a message to Congress that now is not the time for us to impose new sanctions, now is the time for us to allow the diplomats and technical experts to do their work," Obama said.
Forging a final deal will not be easy, he said, but he urged Tehran to seize the opportunity.
"If Iran is willing to walk through the door of opportunity that is presented to them, then I have no doubt that it can open up extraordinary opportunities for Iran and their people," Obama said. "If they fail to walk through this door of opportunity, then we are in a position to reverse any interim agreement, and put in place additional pressure to make sure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon."
A six-month period begins January 20 for the U.S., partners in the P5+1 group of nations, and Iran to reach agreement on a final deal.
Obama has said he would veto any bill arriving at his desk from Capitol Hill that imposed new sanctions during the period of negotiations for a comprehensive agreement.
But even as agreement on the Joint Plan of Action with Iran was announced this past Sunday, U.S. lawmakers showed little sign of decreased determination to press ahead with a sanctions bill.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says Congress could always impose new sanctions if Iran failed to fulfill obligations under the interim agreement, or failed to reach a final comprehensive accord.
"Obviously if Iran violated the terms of the agreement or failed to reach a resolution with the P5+1 over the six -period, Congress we're confident could act very quickly in response to that and pass new sanctions at that time that could be implemented very quickly," he said.
Carney added that the administration is confident Iran understands that any failure to abide by commitments in the implementation agreement or reach a final resolution would result in action by the U.S. and international community.
In his remarks, Obama also made his first comment about critical remarks former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made in a just-published memoir.
Gates questioned Obama's personal commitment to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Obama described Gates as an outstanding secretary of defense and a friend, and said what is important is getting Afghan policy right.
"Whenever you have got men and women that you are sending into harm's way after having already made enormous investments of blood and treasure in another country, that part of your job as commander-in-chief is to sweat the details on it and to recognize that there is enormous sacrifices that are being made and you are constantly asking yourselves questions about how you can improve the strategy,"
Saying he has faith in the mission and "unwavering confidence" in U.S. troops, Obama noted the U.S. is on track to end combat operations by the end of 2014.
He made no mention of the Bilateral Security Agreement, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been refusing to sign.