Obama says U.S. to pursue aggressive Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Wednesday the United States would pursue “aggressive sanctions” to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that could potentially spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Obama, who had made the goal of pursuing dialogue with Iran a cornerstone of his administration’s foreign policy at the beginning of his presidency, said he had been successful in getting the international community to isolate Tehran.

“As we’ve seen, the Iranian government has been more concerned about preventing their people from exercising their democratic and human rights than trying to solve this problem diplomatically,” Obama said in an interview on Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier.

“That’s why we’re going to go after aggressive sanctions. We haven’t taken any options off the table. We are going to keep on pushing,” Obama said.

Iran denies it is seeking to build a nuclear bomb and says its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity.

Obama said preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon was one of his administration’s highest priorities.

“It is a hard problem but is a problem that we need to solve because if Iran gets a nuclear weapon then you could potentially see a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East and that would be tremendously damaging to our national security interests,” he said.

U.S. officials said on Tuesday the pace of Iran’s nuclear weapons development appears to have slowed, buying time for a new round of sanctions now and potentially more sweeping measures later.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Deborah Charles; editing by Mohammad Zargham