Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that Congress should not impose new sanctions on Iran but should use the threat of tougher sanctions to force Tehran to complete a denuclearization agreement.
President Obama is “absolutely right” to oppose the passage of new sanctions right now, Mr. Gates told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “To add sanctions right now really would run a very high risk of blowing it all up.”
A bipartisan group of senators has been considering legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran. The White House has been forceful in arguing against the bill, asking lawmakers to give negotiations more time.
But Mr. Gates, who is promoting a memoir that is sometimes critical of Mr. Obama and his team, said the threat of “even more dire sanctions” would be useful to the administration to compel the Iranians to live up to the agreement signed late last year.
“I think that would strengthen the administration’s hand,” Mr. Gates said. “Nobody is better than the Iranians, the Persians, at slow-rolling negotiations. We worry all the time about the hardliners in Iran; maybe we ought to let them worry a little bit about the hardliners in the United States.”
Mr. Obama hosted a group of Democratic senators at the White House Wednesday night and lobbied against new sanctions. The president reportedly drank a martini with the group, an act of socializing that Mr. Gates said the president should have started on his first day in office.
Mr. Gates, who also served as the final defense secretary for President George W. Bush, said both men suffered from a failure to work with lawmakers.
On Afghanistan, Mr. Gates warned that it would be a “strategic mistake” for the administration to fail to leave a military force of “some size” beyond 2014. The administration is negotiating a pact on withdrawal with the Afghan government.
“I’m hearing there is still a large number of people in the White House who still want to pull the plug, who just want to get the hell out,” Mr. Gates said. “I think that would be a terrible mistake.”