White House press secretary Jay Carney and Fox News reporter Ed Henry got into a tense exchange Friday over the Obama administration’s infighting with Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) and other Democrats supporting a sanctions bill against Iran.
Henry’s question referenced a Huffington Post article splashed on the site’s front page Friday where National Security Council spokesman Bernadette Meehan was quoted as saying any legislators who wanted military action taken against Iran should come out and say so, arguing that support for the bill would undercut diplomacy with Tehran. Henry took that to mean that the White House had essentially accused Democrats like Menendez of wanting to go to war.
“Look, I think that Senator Menendez — Chairman Menendez wants what we want, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Carney said. “He and many other in the Senate have been excellent partners in helping construct this sanctions regime which was designed to bring Iran to the negotiating table and which, thanks to the efforts of Congress, has achieved that.”
Henry pressed on, however, asking Carney repeatedly whether it was fair to say Menendez and other Democrats wanted war with that kind of statement coming from the NSC, pointing out President Obama himself has said he would not take the military option off the table when dealing with a rogue nation like Iran.
Carney dodged the question, saying he couldn’t comment on every member of the U.S. Senate.
“I mean, I don’t know every one of a hundred senators, what their personal view is on whether or not military force ought to be used in Iran, so I can’t give a blanket statement about how they all feel,” Carney said. “What I do know is, when it comes to Senator Menendez and all of the partners who have assisted this administration over the years in building the sanctions regime, is that we share a common goal, which is to deprive Iran of the opportunity of acquiring a nuclear weapon, and to do so through negotiations.”
ED HENRY: On Iran, got a lot of questions on that, but I wanted to be more specific on — there’s an interesting story in Huffington Post where a White House official is quoted today as suggesting that people who support this sanctions bill on the Hill, Democrats and Republicans — the quote is, if certain members of Congress want the U.S. to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. You’re basically accusing Democrats like Bob Menendez of wanting to go to war. Is that really a fair characterization?
JAY CARNEY: I think we have said all along, Ed, that we have worked cooperatively and effectively with an excellent partner in Congress in building a sanctions regime against Iran the likes of which the world has never seen, more effective than the world has ever seen. And we share the same goals that members of Congress of both parties share, which is the absolute need to deprive Iran of acquiring a nuclear weapon.
And our stated concern again and again is that pursuing sanctions now, new sanctions now, would actually undermine the objective here, the objective being that we can bring about, potentially, through negotiation, a peaceful resolution of this conflict between Iran and the rest of the world in a verifiable, transparent way that would, more effectively than a military action, assure the P-5 plus one, the United States, our allies and everybody in the world that Iran does not and is not — does not have and is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. So —
HENRY: I understand you’re saying this could blow up the diplomatic deal, but the thing is you’re going further in this story. And a White House official on the record is saying that these lawmakers want the U.S. to take military action. Do you — can you say from the podium that you — that Democrat Bob Menendez wants to go to war?
CARNEY: Look, I think that Senator Menendez — Chairman Menendez wants what we want, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He and many other in the Senate have been excellent partners in helping construct this sanctions regime which was designed to bring Iran to the negotiating table and which, thanks to the efforts of Congress, has achieved that.
And I believe that, you know, when it comes — this isn’t a debate about sanctions. Obviously this administration supports sanctions. We built the biggest, most effective sanctions regime in history. Our view of the current situation is that passing new sanctions legislation now would be counterproductive to the goal that we all share.
And the problem — the obviously problem with that is that if we want, as everyone does, to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, and we make it harder if not impossible to pursue achieving that goal peacefully, then we — our options become very limited. So it’s not about motive; it’s about, you know, the potential outcome that would be negative for the United States and our allies.
HENRY: The president himself has repeatedly said he has the military option on the table, he should not take that off the table.
CARNEY: And he won’t.
HENRY: So it would be unfair for people to suggest he wants to go to war, right? He’s just saying I want to have that option. So how can you possibly accuse Democrats and Republicans on the Hill of wanting to take military action? That’s what you’re saying.
CARNEY: Again, Ed, I think that —
HENRY: Are you running from that — (inaudible) — is my question.
CARNEY: No, I’m not. What I’m saying is — I mean, I don’t know every one of a hundred senators, what their personal view is on whether or not military force ought to be used in Iran, so I can’t give a blanket statement about how they all feel.
What I do know is, when it comes to Senator Menendez and all of the partners who have assisted this administration over the years in building the sanctions regime, is that we share a common goal, which is to deprive Iran of the opportunity of acquiring a nuclear weapon, and to do so through negotiations. That’s why we built the sanctions regime. And our strong concern is that passage of sanctions at this time would negatively affect and perhaps scuttle the negotiations that are underway, and then make it much harder, if not impossible, to achieve our objective peacefully.