WASHINGTON – Juggling a pair of tenuous diplomatic efforts, President Barack Obama on Tuesday vowed to come down like a ton of bricks on businesses that violate Iranian sanctions while nuclear negotiations are underway. He also conceded enormous frustration with stalled Syrian peace talks and offered little hope of ending the conflict soon.
Obama spoke during a joint White House news conference with French President Francois Hollande, a key partner on both Syria and Iran. The leaders have aimed to project a united front on the two matters, but a trip to Tehran last week by French executives has irked U.S. officials who are seeking to tamp down the notion that a temporary easing of sanctions opened Iran up for business.
In a blistering warning, Obama said companies exploring economic opportunities in Iran do so at their own peril right now because we will come down on them like a ton of bricks.
Hollande sought to distance himself from the executives’ trip, saying through a translator that the French business community is very much aware of this situation.
Addressing the civil war in Syria, where more than 130,000 people have been killed over three years, Obama said, Nobody is going to deny that there’s enormous frustration here.
The Syrian government and opposition groups have been holding peace talks in Geneva, but the discussions have made little progress. The president said he keeps open the option of using force against Syria.
The U.S. came close to launching a strike against Syria after a chemical weapons attack there last year. Both countries pulled back after Russia helped negotiate a deal to strip Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles.
The leaders also faced questions about U.S. government spying, which has spurred anger in France and elsewhere across Europe. Hollande said that he and Obama had clarified the situation and that mutual trust has been restored.