WASHINGTON, Jan 13 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged Congress on Monday to resist the temptation to approve new economic sanctions against Iran and said lawmakers instead should give diplomacy and peace a chance to work.
Many in the Senate are eager to back new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, a move the White House fears would upset delicate diplomatic efforts with Tehran that just recently led to an interim agreement.
Obama raised the issue of Iran himself in speaking to reporters during an Oval Office appearance with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Obama said an interim agreement reached between Iran and world powers, including the United States, is going to be difficult and challenging.
"My preference is for peace and diplomacy and this is one of the reasons why I've sent a message to Congress that now is not the time for us to impose new sanctions," Obama said. "Now is the time for us to allow the diplomats and technical experts to do their work."
Obama said if Tehran abides by the agreement, "then I have no doubt that it can open up extraordinary opportunities for Iran and their people."
But if they refuse, he said, then "we are in position to reverse any interim agreement and put in place additional pressure to make sure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon."
Obama said the international community will be able to monitor and verify whether the interim deal is being followed by Iran.
"And if it is not, we'll be in a strong position to respond. But what we want to do is give diplomacy a chance and give peace a chance," he said. (Reporting by Steve Holland and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by James Dalgleish)