President Obama Friday appeared to back away from insisting on a hard line on phasing out sanctions on Iran.
During a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi Friday, Obama said he didn't want to "get out ahead" of Secretary of State John Kerry's negotiations with Iran in the weeks and months before a June 30 deadline for a deal.
Instead, he said he wanted to offer a "general observation."
"How sanctions are lessened and how we snap back sanctions if there is a violation — there are a lot of different mechanisms and ways to do that," he told reporters.
Part of Kerry's and the other negotiators' job, the president said, is to "find formulas that get to our main concerns while allowing the other side to make a presentation to their body politic that is more acceptable."
"Our main concern here is making sure that if Iran doesn't abide by their agreements, that we do not have to jump through a bunch of hoops" to put the sanctions back in place.
Last week, Obama forcefully rejected Iran Supreme Leader Khamenei's assertion that economic sanctions on his country must be lifted as soon as any deal is signed.
Obama reacted to those comments by arguing that phased reduction of penalties on the Islamic Republic was part of a preliminary accord reached in early April and that Khamenei was simply playing to Iran hardliners.
"It's not surprising to me that the supreme leader or a whole bunch of other people are going to try to characterize the deal in a way that protects their political position," Obama said in a news conference Saturday at the Summit of the Americas in Panama.
The president earlier this week dropped his threat to veto a Senate bill that would allow Congress to weigh in on any Iran deal after Democrats watered down the language in a compromise.
Obama on Friday explained his decision to embrace a bipartisan bill co-authored by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., calling it a "reasonable compromise" that wouldn't impede negotiations with Iran before they wrap up by the June 30 deadline.
"I think the final product that emerged out of the Corker-Cardin negotiations we believe will not derail the negotiations, so that checked off one box," he said.
The president also objected to Congress' jurisdictional argument — that the Constitution requires that the legislative branch negotiate or at lease approve of treaties with other countries.
Obama rejected the notion that a prospective deal with Iran amounts to a treaty and instead called it a "political agreement."
"This is not a formal treaty that is being negotiated," he said. "Presidents should be able to enter into binding political agreements with other nations."
The final version of the Corker-Cardin bill, Obama said, helped reassure him that "it is not sending a signal to future presidents that each and every time they are negotiating a political agreement, they have to get Congressional authorization."
He also noted that Corker and Cardin had promised him that "there wasn't going to be a whole lot of poison pills and amendments" added to the measure.
"[They told me] they will be protective of this being a straight-forward, fair process for Congress to be able to evaluate any deal we may come up with — that it's not going to be tilted in the direction of trying to kill the deal."
The compromise bill would give Congress 30 days to review the details of any agreement and would allow a vote on whatever deal emerges but in a way that makes it difficult for the Senate to put the kibosh on the agreement.
It would allow Congress an up or down vote on ending the sanctions and give lawmakers a chance to later take up the issue on whether Iran has met its obligations. If Congress rejected the deal, Obama could still veto the legislation and it would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto.