Obama reassures Netanyahu on Iran, PA war crimes bid
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Obama reassures Netanyahu on Iran, PA war crimes bid

Leaders speak on phone as president’s UN ambassador tells Republicans White House objects to new sanctions on Tehran

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference, Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. (photo credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference, Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. (photo credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday night, telling him he opposed the Palestinians’ move to join the International Criminal Court to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel. Obama also spoke of American efforts to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.

The White House said Obama told Netanyahu that the Palestinian Authority wasn’t yet a state and wasn’t eligible to join the court. Obama said the Palestinians’ application to the court wasn’t constructive and undermined trust with Israel.

The US is reviewing its aid package to the Palestinians because of their bid to join the court.

Palestine was accepted as an observer state by the 122 countries that are members of the International Criminal Court in December. Its ratification of the Rome Statute that established the ICC in late December has been accepted at the United Nations, and the state of Palestine will become the 123rd member of the international war crimes tribunal on April 1. The United States is not a member of the ICC, so its views on Palestinian statehood have no bearing on the court.

The White House said Obama also told Netanyahu the US was working toward a nuclear deal that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu has repeatedly warned such a deal could undercut Israel’s security.

The nuclear talks resume this week in Switzerland.

Obama’s UN ambassador strongly objected Monday to any new US sanctions push on Iran, saying the administration wouldn’t compromise with the Republican-led Congress.

Samantha Power said the proposed penalties on Tehran, as championed by Republican and some Democratic lawmakers, would “almost certainly end” nuclear talks between Iran and world powers. And she said the legislation would weaken existing sanctions on Iran by undermining international cooperation.

While the sentiments weren’t new for the Obama administration, Power’s remarks were noteworthy for the forum where they were delivered. She was speaking at an event in Louisville, Kentucky, hosted by Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s new majority leader.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (photo credit: AP/Seth Wenig/File)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (photo credit: AP/Seth Wenig/File)

While Power sought to stress common goals between the administration and Congress — from fighting Ebola and confronting terrorists to ending Burma’s dictatorship — she drew lines on the issue of Iran and Cuba.

“Imposing new sanctions now will almost certainly end a negotiations process that has not only frozen the advance of Iran’s nuclear program, but that could lead us to an understanding that would give us confidence in its exclusively peaceful nature,” Power said.

“Iran would be able to blame the US for sabotaging the negotiations and causing the collapse of the process, and we would lose the chance to peacefully resolve a major national security challenge,” Power said.

And, she argued, a new package of nuclear-related trade, oil or financial restrictions on Tehran would “likely weaken the sanctions pressure on Iran, by undermining crucial international support.”

In the Senate, nearly all Republicans and several Democrats have voiced support for toughening the economic pressure on Iran in a bid to squeeze its negotiators into making more concessions in nuclear talks. Support from the Republican-dominated House is a given.

The US and its partners are hoping to seal a deal with Iran by July that would provide the country long-term relief from international sanctions in exchange for stricter limits on its nuclear activity. Iran says its program is solely designed for peaceful nuclear energy and medical research purposes. The US and many governments in the world suspect Iran of maintaining a covert interest in producing nuclear weapons.

The Senate is likely to take up the issue in February.

Aides say the legislation being drafted by Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, and Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat, has significantly softened language from a bill the pair drafted a year ago. The last effort would have compelled an increase in sanctions unless Iran ended all uranium enrichment activity. That is no longer a binding condition, said aides who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the bill while it was still being worked on and demanded anonymity.

Power also defended the administration’s outreach to Cuba, confirming that the communist government has released 53 political prisoners it promised to free last month when the two countries vowed to re-establish diplomatic ties. She said differences with Cuba hawks on that effort were an issue of tactics, not overall objectives, and said the release of the dissidents “does not resolve the larger human rights problems on the island.”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

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