The US could continue to impose sanctions on Iran even after a nuclear deal is signed, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday, while saying the chances of an agreement being signed were only “50-50.”
Earnest also said US President Barack Obama apparently did not tune in to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group on Monday, even as Israel’s leader attempted to smooth over ruffled feathers ahead of a controversial speech to Congress planned for Tuesday.
“If [the Iranians] indicate that they are not willing to comply with an agreement once one is signed, then we continue to have all of these options on the table,” Earnest told reporters. “We can add additional sanctions to the mix if we feel like that would be successful. We’ll even have a military option that continues to be available to the president.”
The comments came as the US and Israel have publicly squabbled over how best to thwart Iran’s ability to obtain nuclear weapons.
Earnest said Obama had laid out “a clear strategy” to stop Iran, while Netanyahu hadn’t.
He said he was not sure “even a military strategy” would “accomplish [Netanyahu’s] goal, because it would require not just a detailed destruction of Iran’s infrastructure, but it also would require the removal of knowledge that Iran has already obtained.”
Earnest asserted that the likelihood of reaching a deal with Iran “is only at best, 50-50.”
“There are difficult decisions that need to be made by the Iranian government in terms of their willingness to sign on to this agreement, and this president has made clear he’s not going to sign onto a bad deal,” he continued.
Earnest also said he does not believe Netanyahu’s opposition to the deal “will have much of impact on the ultimate outcome.”
He said “he doesn’t believe” Obama watched Netanyahu’s speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, DC, earlier that day, nor did he think Obama would watch Netanyahu’s speech to Congress Tuesday.
“I haven’t looked at the president’s schedule for tomorrow, I doubt that he will spend his whole time watching the speech,” Earnest said.
Netanyahu’s speech Monday focused on affirming the strength of ties between Israel and the US, even as his relationship with the Obama administration has turned frosty over a dispute regarding how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, and the White House’s opposition to his speech to US lawmakers.
Earnest, like Netanyahu, made sure to tout Israel-US ties, and said the relationship between the two countries has been strengthened under Obama’s lead.
The spokesman added that the US was determined to ensure Iran would not achieve nuclear weapons capabilities in any case.
“The United States has made clear that our foreign policy goal is to ensure that Iran does not obtain or acquire a nuclear weapon,” Earnest said. “That is our goal. It is my understanding that that is a goal shared by the Israeli political leadership as well.”
When asked whether Netanyahu’s visit to Washington was “historic,” as the Israeli leader had described it, Earnest said the prime minister was passing judgment on US foreign policy.
“I would allow the Israeli prime minister the prerogative of describing his trip however he wants, but what is clear is that the president is making decisions about our foreign policy, with the foreign policy interests of the United States at the forefront,” Earnest said.
“The good news for Prime Minister Netanyahu is that in almost every situation, what’s good for the United States also happens to be good for Israel,” he added.
A report on Israel’s Channel 10 Monday night claimed the US and Israel had stopped coordinating over the Iranian issue because of tensions over the speech.
The report followed a number of similar reports in the Israeli press last month, all of which were denied by the US, though officials hinted some information on the talks was being kept from Jerusalem.
Netanyahu has said he has details about the speech and earlier Monday, an Israeli official indicated that prime minister would reveal some details of the agreement during his speech before “uninformed,” US lawmakers, according to the Ynet news site.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday appeared to warn Prime Minister Netanyahu against revealing details of an Iran nuclear deal that world powers are currently negotiating.
While he did not mention Netanyahu by name, Kerry told reporters in Geneva he was “concerned by reports” that “selective details” of the deal would be revealed, after an Israeli official said Jerusalem knew about the emerging agreement and that the prime minister would elaborate in his congressional address.
A report late last month that the US was pursuing a deal with Iran that would freeze the ability to produce a nuclear weapons for 10 years before allowing it to ramp up enrichment activities was quickly denied by the White House and State Department.
However, Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, have said the deal being put together is a bad one that will be dangerous for Israel and the Western world.