White House says new sanctions against Iran could unravel P5+1 unity

If Congress passes new sanctions against Iran, the sanctions could unravel the unity of the P5+1 partners and could complicate Iran's participation in negotiations, the White House said on Monday.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications for the White House, made the remarks on Tuesday during a press gaggle aboard Air Force One en route to Johannesburg, South Africa. Rhodes responded to a question about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments that new sanctions should be imposed on Iran. Rhodes said the sanctions would be counterproductive.

"Sanctions during the course of the negotiations would be seriously counterproductive," Rhodes said. "It could unravel the unity of the P5+1 partners that is so necessary to trying to achieve the deal that we want. It could complicate Iran's participation in those negotiations by reinforcing some of the more hardline elements of their system. And frankly, it could ultimately undermine the sanctions regime itself, because the purpose of sanctions was to reinforce a negotiation."

Rhodes said the U.S. has an opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully, and if the U.S. is seen as not working in concert with its partners, it could be difficult for the entire world to maintain pressure on Iran to continue negotiations.

Rhodes pointed out that the U.S. will continue enforcing sanctions on Iran throughout the negotiation and that more sanctions would be imposed if the Iranians violate the terms of the interim agreement.

"We don't think there's a need to move to new sanctions now," Rhodes said. "We'll pivot to new sanctions if the negotiations don't succeed, but now is the time to test whether a peaceful diplomatic solution is possible."